Goroawase – Japanese number puns

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Japanese count differently than other languages. Thanks to Japanese ideograms, some numbers have pronunciation variations. This can end up confusing some and give rise to puns that we will cover in this article.

They often use words to represent numbers or numbers to represent words. These puns are often used in advertisements as a way to help people remember phone numbers. These number puns are called gorowase (語呂合わせ).

First we recommend that you at least understand how counting and numbers work in Japanese. For that we will leave some articles for you to read below:

The Japanese language has few phonemes, and because of the ideograms some words are only one or two phonemes. A single phoneme can mean many things, that's why some Japanese use the pronunciation of numbers to give some meaning. Here's an example of the pronunciation possibilities with Japanese numbers:

Number Kanji readings English
0 ma(ru), o, re(i) o, zero, ze
1 hi(to), i(chi), wan wan
2 fu, bu, pu, ni, tsu(u) tsu, you
3 mi, sa(n), za, su(ri) su, suri
4 shi, yo(n) foo, faa, ho
5 go, ko, itu faibu, faivu
6 mu, ro(ku) shikkusu
7 na(na), shichi sebun, sevu
8 ha(chi), ba, pa, ya, e(ito) I am
9 ku, kyu(u) nain
10 to(o), juu have

This is one of the reasons why the Japanese are afraid of the numbers 4 (shi – 四) which resembles death (shi – 死) and the number 9 (ku – 九) which resembles black (kuro – 黒). Another example is the number 43 (shisan) where the pronunciation is similar to birth of the dead shizan (死産).

In the case of puns they usually read the numbers separate which was in the case four and three (shi san) and not forty-three (yon juu san). The Japanese can also use reading the numbers of a foreign language like English to make these puns. Not to mention that kanji usually have similar readings that are alternated by the dakuten.

With these puns the Japanese use numbers to write secret words and expressions. Using the pronunciation of Japanese numbers which are simple syllables we can easily assemble words and sentences using numbers. If someone sends you messages written in number you may be able to decipher them!

Note that even the name Goro can have a number pun (56).

gorowase – Japanese number puns

1492 – That was the year they discovered America, thinking about it, the expression was created Yo! Kuni Ga Mieta (いよ国が見えた). This expression literally means: Wow! I can see the land! (or a country) or land in sight! This is because each phoneme can represent a number from 1492: i (1) yo (4) ku (9) ni (2).

23564 - The sidereal or stellar day is exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds which indicates the period of rotation of the earth in relation to the stars. In Japanese this number can be read ni-san-go-ro-shi which sounds very similar to nii-san-koroshi (兄さん殺し) which translates to killing brother.

3.14159265  – This is the number of the famous PI that can be pronounced san-i-shi-i-ko-ku-ni-mu-ko which sounds similar to (産医師異国に向こう) which translates to “An obstetrician goes to a country abroad". For those who don't know, an obstetrician is a doctor who takes care of women's reproduction.

4649 – This number can be read as yo-ro-shi-ku which literally means “Nice to meet you or count on your help”.

573 – That number sounds a lot like konami. 573 appears on many Konami phone numbers or on arcade boards.

23 – Can be read as “ni san” referring to Nissan who usually numbers his cars “23” at motorsport events.

59 - This number can indicate "have go ku” (天国) which means Paradise. This happens because ten is 10 in English and 50 is in the tens place continuing so with go (5) and ku (9). 

  • 801 “ya oi” – yaoi meaning Gay;
  • 39 – “san-kyu” – (thank you);
  • 893 - “ya-ku-za” (やくざ) Japanese mafia;
  • 39 – “mi-ku” – Hatsune Miku;
  • 15 – “ichi-go” – strawberry;
  • 90 – “ku-ma” – bear;
  • 96 – “kuro” – black;
  • 18782 – “i-ya-na-ya-tsu” (いやなやつ) unpleasant;
  • 37564 – “mi-na-go-ro-shi” (みなごろし) massacre;
  • 889 – ha-ya-ku – fast;

Goroawase - puns on numbers in Japanese

Numerical puns in anime

To understand that making puns with numbers is something quite common in Japan. We separate some examples of anime and other media that used puns involving numbers to remember something.

The first example is in the recent anime Darling in the franxx where characters have numbers instead of names. If you pay attention the names that the characters gave each other are related to the numbers of each one. The 015 for example is called Ichigo. The other characters are: Naomi (703) | Zorome (666) | Hiro (016) | Mitsuri (326);

In the movie about the girl who jumps in time (toki wo kakeru shoujo) it is mentioned that the weather will be fine on July 13th (7-1-3) which is equal to na-i-su (Nice) in English.

  • The protagonist of Ah! My Goddess signs his name as K1 (keiichi);
  • Kogoro from Detective Conan likes to use his name written in numbers 556 (kogoro) as a password;
  • In Inazuma Eleven Tsunami's surfboard has 273 written on it;

Goroawase - puns on numbers in Japanese

puns on dates in japan

The Japanese also often put puns on special dates. Of course these dates aren't real but it's a pretty funny idea. Let's list them below:

1月3日 ひとみの日 Hitomi no hi (hitomi day)
1月5日 いちごの日 Ichigo no Hi (Strawberry Day)
2月9日 ふくの日 Fuku no hi (clothes day)
2月10日 ニットの日 NEET no hi (Neet day)
2月22日 ニャンニャンニャンの日 Nyan nyan nyan no hi (cat day)
3月9日 サンキュウの日 Sankyu no hi (thank you day)
3月13日 サンドイッチの日 Sandoiicchi no hi (sandwich day)
4月15日 良い子の日 Yoi ko no hi (Good Son Day)
8月7日 花の日 Hana no hi (for day)
8月7日 バナナの日 Banana no hi (Banana Day)
8月29日 焼き肉の日 Yakiniku no hi (Japanese BBQ Day)

There is even a website where you can create your own Goroawase. Hope you enjoyed the article! Don't forget to share with friends and leave your comments. Did you understand all the puns?

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