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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.
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 (ん).
|Number||Japanese kunyomi readings||Japanese onyomi 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 |
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".
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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.
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.
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.
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.
25252 can be read as "nico nico nii", which is the catchphrase of Nico Yazawa from Love Live!.
29 can be read as "niku" (肉), meaning "meat". Restaurants and groceries have special offers on the 29th day of every month.
315 can also be read as "sa-i-kō" (最高), meaning highest, supreme or ultimate. 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 even referenced in Initial D where Rin Hojo's car has this number plate, befitting his nickname of "Shinigami".
382 can be read "mi-ya-bi" (みやび), used by Miyavi.
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.
420 can be read as "Shi-tsu-rei", which means "Excuse-me"
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.
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.
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. It also sounds like Miyamoto Musashi.
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.
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.
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.
.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.
The Trading Card Game Yu-Gi-Oh! also often makes use of number puns for the Number monster cards. Examples:
- No. 39 King of Wishes, Hope ("39" can be read separately as "mi-ku", which can be translated into "future", as in "hope for the future".)
- No. 53 Fake-Body God, Heart-eartH ("53" can be read separately as "go-mi", "gomi" means trash, a reference to the user of this card who also used Garbage series cards.)
- No. 96 Black Mist ("96" can be read separately as "ku-ro", "kuro" means "black".)
- No. 85 Crazy Box ("85" can be read separately as "ha-ko", "hako" means "box".)
- No. 82 Heart Monster - Heartlandraco ("82" can be read separately as "ha-tsu", which is similar to "haatsu", the Japanese pronunciation of "hearts".)
- No. 45 Prophet of Extinction - Crumble Logos ("45" can be read separately as "shi-go", meaning "after death", a reference to this monster being a Zombie.)
- No. 32 Marine Biting Dragon - Shark Drake ("32" can be read separately as "mi-tsu", which sounds similar to "mizu", meaning "water".)
- No. 46 Ethereal Dragon - Draggluon ("46" can be read separately as "shi-ro", "shiro" means "white", which is the dominant color of this monster.)
- No. 73 Roaring Waterfall Deity - Abyss Splash ("73" can be read separately as "na-mi", "nami" means "wave", as in "water wave".)
- No. 57 Quickly-Agitated Dragon - Tresragoon ("57" can be read separately as "ko-na", "kona" means "dust", which is what this monster appears to be.)
- No. 74 Magical Clown - Missing Sword ("74" can be read separately as "nana-shi", "nanashi" means "secret/stealthy", referencing the "Missing" part of this card's name.)
- No. 63 Oshamoji Soldier ("63" can be read separately as "mu-mi", "mumi" means "dull/tasteless", a reference to the user of this card whose cooking tastes bad before this card's mystical power made them amazingly delicious.)
- "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.
- The reading ten is more commonly achieved by reading the decimal point as 点 ten, meaning "point".
- 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.
- 315 Production
- "3/9 Marks Happy "Miku" & "Zaku" Day In Japan, Fan Artists Mark The Occasion". Crunchyroll. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
- Kyodo News, "Tower's developers considered several figures before finally settling on 634", Japan Times, 23 May 2012, p. 2