Japanese wordplay

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Japanese wordplay relies on the nuances of the Japanese language and Japanese script for humorous effect.

Japanese double entendres have a rich history in Japanese entertainment, because of the way that Japanese words can be read to have several different meanings and pronunciations (homographs). Also, several different spellings for any pronunciation and wildly differing meanings (homophones). Often replacing one spelling with another (homonyms) can give a new meaning to phrases.


Goroawase (語呂合わせ) is an especially common form of Japanese wordplay whereby homophonous words are associated with a given series of letters, numbers or symbols, in order to associate a new meaning with that series. The new words can be used to express a superstition about certain letters or numbers. More commonly, however, goroawase is used as a mnemonic technique, especially in the memorization of numbers such as dates in history, scientific constants and phone numbers.[1]

Numeric substitution[edit]

Every digit has a set of possible phonetic values, due to the variety of valid Japanese (kun'yomi and on'yomi), and English-origin pronunciations for numbers in Japanese. Often readings are created by taking the standard reading and retaining only the first syllable (for example roku becomes ro). Goroawase substitutions are well known as mnemonics, notably in the selection of memorable telephone numbers for commercial services, and in the memorization of numbers such as years in the study of history.

Mnemonics are formed by selecting a suitable reading for a given number; the tables below list the most common readings, though other readings are also possible. Variants of readings may be produced through consonant voicing or gemination, vowel lengthening, and the insertion of the nasal mora n ().

Number Kun'yomi readings On'yomi readings Transliterations from English readings
0 maru, ma, wa rei, re ō, zero, ze
1 hitotsu, hito, hi ichi, i wan
2 futatsu, fu, futa, ha ni, ji, aru tsu, tsū, tū
3 mittsu, mi san, sa, za su, surī
4 yon, yo, yottsu shi fō, fā, ho
5 itsutsu, itsu, i go, ko faibu, faivu
6 muttsu, mu roku, ro shikkusu
7 nana, nanatsu, na shichi sebun, sevun
8 yattsu, ya hachi, ha, ba eito
9 kokonotsu, ko kyū, ku nain
10 tō, to, ta ju, ji ten [2]


As mnemonics[edit]

1492 (the year of discovery of America) can be memorized as: iyo! kuni ga mieta! (derived as follows: i (1) yo (4)! ku (9) ni (2) (ga mieta)!), meaning: "Wow! I can see land!" or i (1) yo (4)! ku (9) ni (2), "It's good country". Alternately, it can be read as "i"(1)"shi"(4)ku(9)"ni"(2) which has no meaning but is used to memorize the year.

23564 (23 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds, the length of a sidereal day) can be read "ni-san-go-ro-shi", which sounds very similar to "nii-san koroshi" (兄さん殺し), or in English killing one's older brother.

3.14159265 (Pi) can be read "san-i-shi-i-ko-ku-ni-mu-kou" (産医師異国に向こう), meaning "An obstetrician faces towards a foreign country."

42.19 (the length of a marathon course in kilometres) can be read as shi-ni-i-ku (死に行く), meaning "to go to die".

Other examples[edit]

7 can be read as "nana", meaning "seven". Nana won 7th Style Icon Awards on Tony Moly K-Beauty category.

13, can be read as "i-mi", meaning "meaning" (as in "Imi wa wakaranai" meaning "I don't know what you mean"). It can also be read as Hitomi, referencing the Dead or Alive character or the submarine I-13's nickname in Kantai Collection. It references to Japanese singer-songwriter, Hitomi Furuya and Hitomi Honda, which is the member of AKB48/Iz*One. On July 12th and 13th, Hitomi was center of the Gunma Team 8 Performances.

14, can be read as "ishi", meaning "stone". It can also mean "iyo", one of which is used as a nickname for I-14 in Kantai Collection

15, read as "Ichi Go", is commonly used to refer to strawberries (ichigo). It can also mean "Strawberry Face Conversion", a term used on building a Nissan Silvia S15 front on other compatible cars. See also Sileighty for more info. This references to Kamen Rider Ichigo who aired on 1971-1973.

16 can be read as "Hi ro", and is both a standard Japanese name and 16 is the typical age of anime and manga heroes. As in Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, Hiiro Kagami starring in the Ex-Aid series when the series is started to airing from 2016.

18782 can be read "i-ya-na-ya-tsu" (いやなやつ), meaning unpleasant guy.

23 can be read as "ni san", motor manufacturer Nissan frequently enters cars numbered '23' into motorsport events.

2424 can be read as Puyo Puyo. This numerical correspondence has been used and referenced ever since the series' debut, and has also been used in various teasers for some of the games. The series celebrated its 24th anniversary in 2015.

25 can be read as "ni co" (ニコ), is a Japanese name and typical of manga and anime. As in Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, Nico Saiba, Nico's debut transform into Ride-Player on Episode 25. Her name references to Love Live! character, Nico Yazawa.

2525 known as "nico nico" (ニコニコ), is a Japanese video-sharing service on the web. This platform had "mylists", which function similarly to a list of bookmarks. Users can have up to 25 mylist folders, but the number of videos per folder depends on the user's membership status.

25252 can be read as "nico nico nii", which is the catchphrase of Nico Yazawa from Love Live!.

26 can be read as "furo" (風呂), meaning "bath". Public baths in Japan have reduced entry fees on the 26th day of every month.[3] It can also mean "Nimu", the nickname of IJN I-26 in Kantai Collection.

29 can be read as "niku" (), meaning "meat". Restaurants and groceries have special offers on the 29th day of every month.

32 can be read as "mi-tsu" (mizu), meaning "water". It because the phase transitions water freezes on 32°F.

135 can be read as "hi-mi-itsu" (秘密), meaning secret. is a novel by Keigo Higashino. is referenced in Himitsu movie, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger etc. Super Sentai franchise, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger's airing in 1975 on TV Asahi.

219 is "ha-i-kyū" (排球), meaning Volleyball. It references to the Haikyu!!. An anime television series produced by Production I.G aired from April 6 to September 21, 2014 on MBS, other JNN stations, and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll. On December 2019, the manga had over 35 million copies in circulation.

315 is "san-ichi-go"; but 3 1 5 is Sa-I-Ga, as in Kamen Rider Psyga, hence the code to activate the henshin.

315 can also be read as "sa-i-kō" (最高), meaning highest, supreme or ultimate.[4][5] This is used as the name for 315 Productions in THE iDOLM@STER: SideM, where the idols under the label use the "saikō" pun as a rallying chant.

37564 can be read "mi-na-go-ro-shi" (みなごろし), meaning massacre, or kill them all. This is referenced in Initial D where Rin Hojo's car has this number plate, befitting his nickname of "Shinigami", in English, The Grim Reaper (of Kanagawa).

382 can be read "mi-ya-bi" (みやび), used by Miyavi.

39 can be read as "san-kyu" (thank you), "mi-ku", usually in reference to the virtual singing software character Hatsune Miku, or "za-ku," referring to the Zaku mecha from the Gundam franchise.[6]

39 can be rendered as "san-kyu" or "sa ku". But it can also be rendered as "sa ku", with the first two syllables used to create the title Sakura Miyawaki, she's member of HKT48/Iz*One. Sakura featured on Green Flash's 39th single, Otona Ressha, 39 is Sakura's favorite number.

39 can be read as "mi-ku", in the references Miku Tanaka from HKT48. Miku featured on Green Flash's 39th single, Otona Ressha.

3923 "san kyu ni san" which can either mean "Thank you Nissan!" or "Thank you, elder brother." "San kyu" is a pun, since it sounds like a Japanese speaker trying to say "thank you" (the Japanese language has no "th" sound). Found in the Online Comics of NBC TV Show Heroes, for which Nissan is a sponsor.

40 can be rendered as "yon ju" or "yon rei". But it can also be rendered as "four zero", with the first two syllables used to create the title Kamen Rider Fourze, the series aired in the 40th anniversary of the franchise.

345 can be read as "Sa-shi-i" or "Sashi", Sasshi is the HKT48 Theater General Manager. Ýubi Matsuri ~ Rinji Sokai ~ events only charge ¥345 entrance ticket to anyone who wants to enjoy the event.

373 can be read as "Mi-na-mi".Minami is singer on Warner Music Japan, she transferred to Warner Music Japan on June 30 2020. Before transferred, in 2017 her won the second FlyingDog Audition Grand Prix, and later signed onto FlyingDog under Victor Entertainment in 2019. She have a website named Osakana373.

420 can be read as "Shi-tsu-rei", which means "Excuse-me"

428 can be read as "Shi-bu-ya", meaning Shibuya.

4242564 is a code used in the Soul Eater manga series to call Shinigami, head of the DWMA. It is read "shi-ni-shi-ni-go-ro-shi" (In death, in death, killing).

4510471 can be read "shi-go-to'o-shi-na-i" (仕事をしない), meaning I don't work, and is found in form of the password of the character Shintaro Kisaragi from the Kagerou Project franchise.

46 can be read as "shi-ro", meaning white.

4649 "yoroshiku" (derived as follows: "yo" (4) "ro" (6) "shi" (4) "ku" (9)) used as a greeting like: "Nice to meet you." Also used to make a request and also to thank the person, either before or after they do it for you.

4869 "shi-ya-ro-ku" (しやろく), with "ya" is written small, this number can be read in "sharoku" (しゃろく), sound like "Sherlock" (シャーロック, Shārokku), relate to Sherlock Holmes. This number is Conan Edogawa's phone PIN and named for APTX-4869 in Case Closed.

51 is "go ichi". These two numbers are the latter part of CEO nickname "Suda51", referring to the name of Goichi Suda.

526 stands for "ko ji ro", which sounds like Sasaki Kojirō.

573 stands for "ko-na-mi" or Konami. This number appears in many Konami telephone numbers and as a high score in Konami games, and in promotional materials, is sometimes used as a character name.

58 stands for "go-ya" meaning "bitter melon". This is also the nickname for IJN submarine I-58 in Kantai Collection.

59 can be read as "go ku", referring to Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise.

610 can be read as "ro-ten" or "Rotten", often used on merchandise of the rockband ROTTENGRAFFTY.

616 can be read as "ro-i-ro" or "lowiro", the name of a video game company which produced the rhythm game Arcaea. The two main partners in the game, Hikari and Tairitsu, can be added as friends through the account system. They have no song records and a potential value of 6.16. Ayu, a limited-availability partner, can also give the user 616 fragments with her ability that gives a random number of fragments after a play.

634 can be read as "mu-sa-shi". The Tokyo Skytree's height was intentionally set at 634 meters, so it would sound like Musashi Province , an old name for the province in which the building stands.[7] It also sounds like Miyamoto Musashi.

75 is "Na ko" , also known as Nako Yabuki is the member of HKT48 Team H/Iz*One. Her Twitter and Instagram account is "nako_yabuki_75_"

712 can be read as "na-i-fu" or Knife. As seen in the Shonen Knife album 712.

765 stands for "na-mu-ko" or Namco. Derivatives of this number can be found in dozens of Namco produced video games. It is also the central studio of The Idolmaster and its sequels. When Namco merged with Bandai, the goroawase number became 876 (ba-na-mu), which is also featured in the Namco Bandai Games' Japanese Twitter account.

801 can be read as "ya-o-i" or yaoi, a genre of homosexual themed manga typically aimed at women.

831 is “ya-sa-i”, meaning a vegetable. This was used in Pokémon Sword and Shield games as a number for a Trainer who used Grass-type Pokémon.

8349 can be read as "ya-sa-shi-ku", meaning gently. This is a movie from Hito ni Yasashiku.

86239 – Used in Initial D as the license number for a mysterious Toyota 86. It reads, "Hachi Roku Ni San Kyu". When translated, it means "Thank you, eight-six/AE86"

893 can be read "ya-ku-za" (やくざ) or Yakuza. It is traditionally a bad omen for a student to receive this candidate number for an examination.

90 can be read as "ku-ma" meaning bear.

913 is "kyu ichi san"; but can also be read as "ka-i-sa", as in Kamen Rider Kaixa, hence the code to activate the henshin. An anagram of this is 193. it was intended to be read as "ichi kyu san", but can also be read as "I-Ku-Sa" as in Kamen Rider IXA or Iku-san. In the former's case, this is the code to activate Rising Mode. In the latter's case, it also means Iku Nagae or IJN submarine I-19 in Kantai Collection.

96 can be read as "kuro" meaning black, as in 96猫 meaning "black cat". 96猫 is a popular Japanese singer who covers songs on the Japanese video sharing site, NicoNico.

563 can be read as "ko-ro-san" (ころさん), which is why 563 yen are commonly donated to the V-Tuber Korone. "Koro" being an abbreviation of her name and "san" being an honorific suffix.

01, can be read as "zero wan" or we known as "1" (first), is a Kamen Rider franchise by Toei Company which aired on the TV Asahi in 2019. Zero-One (Zero and One) means the series has been aired on the first era of Reiwa.

093 can be read as "o-ku-san" (奥さん), meaning "wife". It is used occasionally in phone numbers for women or other items used by ladies.

31. can be read as "sa-i-to" meaning site.

.4 can be read as "ten-shi" meaning angel.

.59 "ten go ku" is the title of a song from the Konami game beatmania IIDX. "Tengoku" (天国) means heaven.

346 can be read as "mi-shi-ro", meaning "beautiful castle". This is used as the name of "346 Production" in THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls.

283 can be read as "tsu-ba-sa", meaning "wing". This is used as the name of "283 Production" in THE iDOLM@STER: Shiny Colors.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Goroawase: Japanese Numbers Wordplay". Tofugu. Retrieved 13 August 2019. The idea is that you can basically use any of these sounds associated with any of these letters to create mnemonics to help someone to remember a phone number.
  2. ^ The reading ten is more commonly achieved by reading the decimal point as ten, meaning "point".[citation needed]
  3. ^ 埼玉県. "生活衛生営業/お風呂の日(毎月26日)は銭湯へ" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  4. ^ 315!!の日☆
  5. ^ 315 Production
  6. ^ "3/9 Marks Happy "Miku" & "Zaku" Day In Japan, Fan Artists Mark The Occasion". Crunchyroll. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
  7. ^ Kyodo News, "Tower's developers considered several figures before finally settling on 634", Japan Times, 23 May 2012, p. 2