Japanese wordplay

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Japanese wordplay relies on the nuances of the Japanese language and Japanese script for humorous effect. Double entendres have a rich history in Japanese entertainment (such as in kakekotoba)[1] due to the language's large amount of homographs (different meanings for a given spelling) and homophones (different meanings for a given pronunciation).


Kakekotoba (掛詞) or "pivot words" are an early form of Japanese wordplay used in waka poetry, wherein some words represent two homonyms. The presence of multiple meanings within these words allowed poets to impart more meaning into fewer words.[1]


Goroawase (語呂合わせ, "phonetic matching") is an especially common form of Japanese wordplay, wherein 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.[2]

Numeric substitution[edit]

Every digit has a set of possible phonetic values, due to the variety of valid Japanese kanji readings (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 used by companies and 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 (via a dakuten or handakuten) or gemination (via a sokuon), vowel lengthening (via a chōonpu), or 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, ri, ru[3] 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[a]


As mnemonics[edit]

1492, the year of discovery of America, can be read as "i-yo-ku-ni" and appended with "ga mieta" to form the phrase "Alright! I can see land!" (いいよ!国が見えた!). Additionally, "i-yo-ku-ni" itself could simply be interpreted as "alright, country" (いいよ、国). The alternative reading "i-shi-ku-ni" is not typically associated with a particular meaning, but is used to memorize the year.

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

3.14159265, the first nine digits of pi, can be read as "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."

General examples[edit]

  • 16 can be read as "hi-ro", Hiro being a common Japanese given name. 16 is also a common age for anime and manga protagonists.[citation needed]
  • 26 can be read as "fu-ro" (風呂), meaning "bath". Public baths in Japan have reduced entry fees on the 26th day of every month.[4]
  • 29 can be read as "ni-ku" (), meaning "meat". Restaurants and grocery stores have special offers on the 29th day of every month.
  • 39 can be read as "san-kyū", referring to "thank you" in English.
  • 428 can be read as "shi-bu-ya", referring to the Shibuya area of Tokyo.
  • 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 area in which the building stands.[5]
  • 801 can be read as "ya-o-i" or yaoi, a genre of homoerotic manga typically aimed at women.
  • 893 can be read as "ya-ku-za" (やくざ) or "Yakuza".[6] It is traditionally a bad omen for a student to receive this candidate number for an exam.[citation needed]

Popular culture[edit]

  • .59 can be read as "ten-go-ku" (天国), meaning "heaven" (an example being the song ".59" in Beatmania IIDX 2nd Style and Dance Dance Revolution 4thMix).
  • 15 can be read as "ichi-go" and is commonly used to refer to strawberries ("ichigo"). It can also mean "strawberry face", a term used to describe equipping the front end of a Nissan Silvia (S15) onto another S-chassis car.[7]
  • 23 can be read as "ni-san". Car manufacturer Nissan frequently enters cars with the number 23 into motorsports 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.
  • 2525 can be read as "ni-ko-ni-ko" (ニコニコ) and refers to Niconico, a Japanese online video platform. Its "mylists", which function similarly to lists of bookmarks, are limited to 25 per user.
  • 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.
  • 315 can be read as "sa-i-kō" (最高), meaning highest, supreme or ultimate. This is used as the name for 315 Production in The Idolmaster SideM, where the idols under the label use "saikō" as a rallying chant.[8][9]
    • In Kamen Rider Psyga, the number 315 is used as a transformation code, since the alternative reading "sa-i-go" is similar to the pronunciation of "Psyga".
  • 34 is a frequent target of goroawase in the mystery franchise When They Cry and is often the name of the culprit or an accomplice, such as Miyo (三四) in Higurashi When They Cry, Sayo (紗代) in Umineko When They Cry, and Mitsuyo in Ciconia When They Cry.
  • 346 can be read as "mi-shi-ro", meaning "beautiful castle". This is used for the name of 346 Production in THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls.
  • 37564 can be read as "mi-na-go-ro-shi" (みなごろし), which can translate to "kill them all". In Initial D, Rin Hojo's car has this number on its license plate, befitting his nickname of "Shinigami".
  • 382 can be read as "mi-ya-bi" (みやび), used by Miyavi.
  • 39 can be read as "mi-ku", usually in reference to the Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku.[10]
  • 428, read as "yo-tsu-ba", can refer to the character Yotsuba Nakano from The Quintessential Quintuplets, who wears t-shirts with that number.
  • 4869 can be read as "shi-ya-ro-ku" (しやろく); when "ya" is written small, it becomes "sharoku" (しゃろく), which resembles "Sherlock" (シャーロック, Shārokku), referring to Sherlock Holmes. This number is Conan Edogawa's phone PIN and appears as the name of APTX 4869 (a poison) in Case Closed.
  • 51 can be read as "go-ichi". These two numbers are the latter part of "SUDA51", the alias of Goichi Suda.
  • 563 can be read as "ko-ro-san" (ころさん); amounts of 563 yen are commonly donated to Virtual YouTuber Inugami Korone of Hololive Production. "Koro" in this case is an abbreviation of her name, and "san" is an honorific suffix.
    • Hololive founder Motoaki "YAGOO" Tanigo's nickname is occasionally represented with the number 85 ("ya-go") or 850 ("ya-go-ō").[11]
  • 573 can be read as "ko-na-mi" and is often used by Konami; for example, it is used in Konami telephone numbers and as a high score in Konami games, as well as in promotional materials and sometimes as a character name.[clarification needed]
  • 59 can be read as "go-ku" and is sometimes used in reference to Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise.
  • 610 can be read as "ro-ten" or "rotten", often used on merchandise of the rock band ROTTENGRAFFTY.
  • 616 can be read as "ro-i-ro", referring to lowiro, the video game company behind the rhythm game Arcaea.
  • 712 can be read as "na-i-fu" or knife, and is used in the Shonen Knife album 712.
  • 723 can be read as "na-tsu-mi" or Natsumi and is commonly used in Sgt. Frog to symbolically refer to the character Natsumi Hinata.
  • 75, read as "na-ko", is used by Nako Yabuki in her Instagram and Twitter handles.
  • 765 can be read as "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. After merging with Bandai, their goroawase number became 876 (ba-na-mu); the handle of Bandai Namco Games' Japanese Twitter account is "@bnei876".[12]
  • 819 can be read as "ha-i-kyū" (排球), meaning volleyball. The community around the series Haikyu!!, an anime television series produced by Production I.G, considers August 19 (8/19) to be "Haikyu!! Day".
  • 89 years can be read as "ya-ku-sai". This is homophonous with the Japanese word for "calamity" (厄災 yakusai), being a fitting age for the JoJolion character Satoru Akefu, who has a calamity related ability.
  • 86239 can be read as "hachi-roku-ni-san-kyū", and was used in Initial D as the number on the license plate of a Toyota 86. When translated, it means "thank you, eight-six".
  • 913 can be read as "ka-i-sa", as in Kamen Rider Kaixa, hence it being the transformation activation code.
  • 96 can be read as "ku-ro" meaning "black", as in 96猫 ("kuroneko"; "black cat"). 96猫 is a popular Japanese singer who covers songs on Niconico.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The reading ten is more commonly achieved by reading the decimal point as ten (点), meaning "point".[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Backhaus, Mio; Backhaus, Peter (2013-05-27). "Oyaji gyagu, more than just cheesy puns". The Japan Times (in American English). Retrieved 2021-10-03.
  2. ^ "Goroawase: Japanese Numbers Wordplay". Tofugu. 30 August 2011. 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.
  3. ^ Ptaszynski, Michal. "PUNDA Numbears: Proposal of Goroawase Generating System for Japanese". Academia. The reading ri is referred to as the number "six".
  4. ^ 埼玉県. "生活衛生営業/お風呂の日(毎月26日)は銭湯へ" (in ja-JP). Retrieved 2016-09-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  5. ^ Kyodo News, "Tower's developers considered several figures before finally settling on 634", Japan Times, 23 May 2012, p. 2
  6. ^ "What is the origin of yakuza?". www.sljfaq.org. Retrieved 2021-10-03.
  7. ^ "Strawberry Fields: A Well-Dressed S-Chassis Slider". Speedhunters (in American English). 2015-04-21. Retrieved 2021-10-03.
  8. ^ 315!!の日☆
  9. ^ 315 Production
  10. ^ a b "3/9 Marks Happy "Miku" & "Zaku" Day In Japan, Fan Artists Mark The Occasion". Crunchyroll. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
  11. ^ "【Baseballお知らせ #1Baseball】10月3日(日)は冠協賛試合『hololive dayBaseball』始球式にはカバー株式会社代表取締役社長「谷郷元昭」が登板いたします". Twitter (in Japanese). Retrieved 2021-10-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ "バンダイナムコエンターテインメント公式". Twitter (in Japanese). Retrieved 2021-10-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)