Confusing side comments for furigana

So I was casually looking over a Pikmin web comic from one of my favorite Japanese fan artists (here if you need it for context, this concerns the last panel) to see how much I could understand, and I came across a dialogue bubble where what I thought was furigana for an unfamiliar word instead appears to be a kind of side comment written in a smaller font like how furigana is.

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This particular comic doesn’t have any furigana (it’s made for natives, so no shock there) so the small text stuck out to me. I thought, might it have been furigana for an unusual word? Using Jisho, I was able to identify the kanji by its radicals and figure out that the word is 優しい (gentle/kind/tender) which is in fact a common word with the reading やさしい. So what exactly is that ははっ?

The closest match I could find is ははあ, which is an interjection meaning “aha!” or “yes sir” (seems to be the former in this context.)
So my guess is that this is just this word written in a way that shows that it’s said rather curtly or cut short (small tsu っ seems to commonly be used for that.) Likewise, the 意外だなー (“Is unexpected”) at the end also appears to be a side comment.

This is probably just a newbie mistake, but has anyone else gotten tripped up by this?


My Japanese isn’t advanced enough to be able to say anything, but as a side note: I’ve heard that sometimes authors like to include something similar to what you described to explain something unfamiliar to natives. For example, an author gives a character a name that is not Japanese and is instead written out in English, so they include furigana so non-English speakers know how to pronounce it.

This probably isn’t what’s going on in the description you gave, but I figured I should tell you about this in case you didn’t know ^^


I don’t think those are furigana at all, just something said but more as an aside to the main dialogue. Usually you’d see that outside the text bubbles, but this really does seem to me like it’s just a “haha” (as in laughing/chuckling a bit) - the same as the 意外だなー on the left side, but said before the main bit, instead of after (and as such being at the top right).

One quick note about furigana, though: they’re not always the reading for kanji. The thing about furigana is, the actual writing below is the meaning, the furigana express what was said. 99 out of 100 times that will mean “this kanji is read this way”, but for instance in 極主夫道 you see things like this:


Thing is, 包丁 isn’t read ヤッパ, it’s read ほうちょう. But the furigana here aren’t indicating the reading for the kanji - the whole bit is the guy speaks like a super threatening gangster, including this instance where he says ヤッパ (being yakuza slang for a knife - the kind you stab people with), but what he means is just a regular old kitchen knife.


Oh that’s interesting. So in cases like that, the furigana act as a sort of “literal” subtitles showing what sounds came out of the character’s mouth, while the actual writing is what was truly meant? That’s a clever way of contrasting what was said with what was meant.

On a related note, would something like “haha” count as onomatopoeia? If so, isn’t onomatopoeia more commonly written using katanaka? Then again, I’m aware it’s not really a hard and fast rule and authors can choose between hiragana and katakana as they wish, and you never know when you might run into an author/artist that doesn’t go by the “most common” way of doing things. As an example, this artist writes 早いとこ as 早い所 earlier in that very same comic, which is apparently a rare form, if is anything to go by.


Yup! It’s something you don’t really see in English, so it can take some getting used to, but that’s pretty much exactly what it is.

Not quite - onomatopoeia is when you use a sound to refer to the thing making that sound, essentially, while “haha” is just the sound. Like ずるずる meaning “dragging”, as opposed to どん which is just the sound it makes when you slam something, but not a word that means “slamming” or whatever.

Yes, but don’t expect authors to adhere to conventions. Authors will switch between hiragana and katakana pretty much as they like, using katakana for Japanese words for emphasis or stylistic effect, or using hiragana for onomatopoeia because that’s just what they do on Mondays.


All that is good to know for later.

And my tripping up with the ははっ aside, I could at least get the gist of the dialogue of this comic, which I found rather exciting! The long sentence at the very end is easily the part giving me the most trouble (since there’s just so much to dissect), but nothing that more practice and maybe reviewing my grammar notes can’t help.


That’s a nice comic.

Feel free to ask if you need any help with the last sentence. :slight_smile:

If the rest of the artist’s work is around the same level of difficulty, I may be able to read all of their stuff (albeit slowly) before too long.

And thanks! I think I just need to go over the sentence more slowly and pick things apart, but I might be able to handle it. I’ll reach out if I really get stuck.

I don’t know what the speaker in the comic is reacting to, but I just read it as a light chuckle. A “hahah”, like English does

I think it’s smaller because it’s meant to be a bit quieter than the main text, like theyre laughing and commenting the “haha” and the “that’s surprising” parts more to themselves


In short, he’s reacting to the other character (a normally rather quiet and aloof person) expressing concern for him. Given the meaning of the sentence, which I read as something along the lines of “You have a soft spot, eh?” with a jokingly jabbing tone, I can believe the smaller bits of dialogue being internal comments to himself or perhaps things he said out loud but just under his breath.

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Yeah, the author for Demon Slayer had the crows speak in katakana, it was one of the most irritating things about that manga. Well, that and having a bunch of characters exclusively speak in son-keigo

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Well, it’s at least a good opportunity to practice reading katakana. :sweat_smile:

Seriously though, that does sound annoying.

Please correct me, if necessary. But, isn’t the idea of onomatopoeia more expansive in Japanese than English. E.g., for Japanese aren’t there “words” that refer to things like types of textures or ways of being, expanded from the sound idea, which also fit into the category of onomatopoeia?

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If English had those words they’d be onomatopoeia too. It’s just that English doesn’t really do that for textures. The basic idea is the same though - deriving a word from the sound something makes.

I don’t think the idea of onomatopoeia in Japanese is necessarily different from the idea in English, there are just way more of them.

I think that’s because that’s what people imagine what those would sound like…?

The correct terms in English are mimetic word or ideophone

Onomatopoeia is specifically a mimetic word that describes a sound, but it gets used more widely by some resources because it’s a more familiar word and the distinction doesn’t really matter in most cases