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[edit]

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.

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 (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 mitsu, mi san, sa, za su, surī
4 yon, yo, yotsu shi fō, fā, ho
5 itsutsu, itsu, i go, ko faibu, faivu
6 mutsu, mu roku, ro shikkusu
7 nana, nanatsu, na shichi sebun, sevun
8 yatsu, ya hachi, ha, ba eito
9 kokonotsu, ko kyu, ku nain
10 tō, to, ta ju, ji ten
Number Japanese kunyomi readings Japanese onyomi readings Transliterations from English readings
0 まる、ま、わ れい、れ オウ、ゼロ、ゼ
1 ひとつ、ひと、ひ いち、い ワン
2 ふたつ、ふた、ふ、は に、じ、ある ツ、ツー、トゥー
3 みつ、み さん、さ、ざ ス、スリー
4 よん、よ、よつ フォ、ファア、ホ
5 いつつ、いつ、い ご、こ ファイブ、ファイヴ
6 むつ、む ろく、ろ シックス
7 ななつ、なな、な しち セブン、セヴン
8 やつ、や はち、は、ば エート
9 ここのつ、こ きゅう、く ナイン
10 とお、と、た じゅう、じ テン

Examples[edit]

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.

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 brother.

3.14159265 (Pi) can be read "san-i-shi-i-ko-ku-ni-mu-ko" (産医師異国に向こう), meaning "An obstetrician goes to 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]

15, read as "Ichi Go", 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.

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.

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.[1]

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

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.[2][3]

37564 can be read "mi-na-go-ro-shi" (みなごろし), meaning massacre, or kill them all.

382 would be read "mi-ya-bi" (みやに), used by Miyavi

39 can be read as "san-kyu" (thank you); or "mi-ku", as in Hatsune Miku [4]

3923 "san kyu ni san", or "Thank you Nissan!" "San kyu" is a pun, since it sounds like a Japanese speaker trying to say "thank you" (the Japanese language has no "th" sound), but actually means "3-9" ("39" would actually be "san ju kyu"). Nii-san means elder brother, so it is more like "Thank you, brother.". "Ni san" could also mean "2-3", which would make the literal translation "3-9-2-3". Found in the Online Comics of NBC TV Show Heroes, for which Nissan is a sponsor.

40 can be rendered as "ju yon" 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.

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)) means: "Nice to meet you."

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

526 "ko ji ro", 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.

634 "mu sa shi", intentionally set the height of Tokyo Skytree sounds like Musashi Province or Miyamoto Musashi, easy to remember among Japanese.

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 now is 876 (ba-na-mu), which is also featured in the Namco Bandai Games' Japanese Twitter account.

801 "ya o i" or yaoi, 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.)

See also[edit]

References[edit]