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It’s safe to say that Japan’s Makankosappo/Hadoukening/Kamehameha photo meme made quite a mark on the English speaking regions of the internets in 2013. With images of people using invisible energy attacks to blast others into the air going viral in March, Makanokosappo was dubbed by many sites to be “the planking of 2013.”

boom

Image by @mkpiiii9

Aside from the advantage of being visually rather than textually based, the popularity of Dragonball and Street Fighter outside of Japan made it easy for Makanokosappo to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries and catch on with internet nerds around the globe. Now, Japanese humor is often painted as being all-but impenetrable by those without a high level of proficiency in the language, and the idea of not being able to be at least moderately funny in Japanese is quite a discouraging prospect for learners in the early stages of their studies.

But never fear! Just because you aren’t JLPT N1 yet doesn’t mean you are doomed to bore the pants of others when communicating in Japanese. As this article in The Japan Times points out, there is lots of Japanese humor that only requires a basic command of the language to be understood, enjoyed, and used to send your Japanese friends flying into the air from the sheer force of your wit! Three contenders for this year’s Japanese Buzzword of the Year Award have been taken up on the internet in a big way and become memes, and they are perfect examples of how Japanese humor is quite similar to the kinds of things that make us English speakers giggle. So, without further ado, let’s us proceed to teh lolz!

Meme #1: Itsu Yaru Ka? Ima Desho!

itsuyaruka

Osamu Hayashi’s now-famous catchphrase “Itsu yaru ka?…… Ima deshou!” (When are you actually going to do it? NOW!) made its first appearance in 2012 as part of a T.V. commercial for Toshin High School. A nationwide chain of cram-schools focused on preparing students for the infamously grueling university entrance exams, Toshin tries to lure in customers by showing clips of their best teachers motivating students through their “unique characters” and “inspirational words.” While making the mother of all doya-gao (a Japanese phrase describing look of smugness or self-satisfaction), Osamu faces his students and asks “Itsu yaru ka?” (When are you actually going to do it?), leaves the smallest of pauses, and then answers the question himself “ima desho!” (it’s now or never, right!). The word “ima” simply translates as [now/the present], while “desho” is a grammatical term that, in this particular case, implies that the speaker is very confident that their opinion is correct.

The video gained some attention, but it wasn’t until Toyota hired Osamu to do a parody commercial in 2013 that the videos went viral and Osama’s catchphrase rapidly became one of the most popular memes of the year. Toyota’s commercial mimics the original video, but the “yaru” in “istu yaru ka” is replaced with “kau” (buy), turning the phrase into “When are you actually going to buy it? NOW!”

Usage and Examples

Within a matter of weeks of the commercial being aired, Twitter, Facebook, Mixi, and other such sites were flooded with remix videos, gifs, and image macros.

Dubstep remix anyone?

Or how about the Kirby version?

Another popular way to procrastinate online is to change “itsu yaru ka?” to another question, or alter the response by replacing “ima” with another word or phrase. In the picture below, やる “yaru” has been replaced with 殺る, which is also pronounced “yaru” but means “to kill” or “to knock off!”

korosuka

“Itsu yaru ka… ima desho!” When are you actually going to knock them off?…NOW!

As Japanese has quite a limited number of sounds, the majority of words have at least one homonym, aka a word that is pronounced the same but written differently and has a different meaning. In the original Toshin commercial, the “ima” meaning “now/the present” is written 今, but there is another “ima” which is written as 居間 and means “living room.”

livingroom

“Doko de yaru ka? Ima desho!” – Where are you going to do it… In the living room, right?

So when’re you going to start using this meme? Err… sometime soon?

Meme #2: Je! (Je!) (Je!)

jejeje

Image by もちねこ

In standard Japanese, surprise or shock are usually expressed with the word “eh?”, meaning something like “huh?” in English , or “bikkuri”, which translates roughly as “what a shock!” However, in the dialect spoken in Kosode, Iwate prefecture in North-East Japan, surprise is given voice to with the expression “je!”. The greater the surprise, the more times you repeat the sound, three repetitions usually being the maximum.

One Japanese website gives the following guidance for usage:

Level 1 ‘Je!’

“Udon yori soba no hou ga karori ga takai da te”
[You know, soba noodles are apparently higher in calories than udon noodles]

Level 2 ‘Je! Je!’

“THE BOOM ni wa okinawa no hito wa hitori mo i inai rashiiii yo”
[It seems that not one of the members of The Boom, who play Okinawan-style music, are actually from Okinawa!]

Level 3 ‘Je! Je! Je’

“Ano hito, ojisan ni mieru kedo, jitsu ha obasan nan da yo ne”
[That person over there – they might look like an old man, but it’s actually an old woman.]

So, perhaps you are wondering how and why “je!” became so popular? Well, it’s all thanks to a T.V. drama called ‘Ama Chan’ that was aired on NHK from March to December this year. The story revolves around a girl named Aki Amano who visits her mother’s hometown of Kosode when her grandmother is taken ill. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I will say that the story involves Aki struggling to qualify as a sea urchin diver and aiming to become a famous idol at the same time. The majority of the main characters in the series speak in the Kosode dialect, and thanks to both the popularity of the show the once little-known expression “Je” has taken off in a big way.

Usage and Examples

As with “Ima Desho!”, YouTube videos featuring the expression have been a big hit. One user decided to record his “improved version” of the instrumental theme song by singing along to it with “Je! Je! Je! Je!…”

… while a slightly more ambitious user created his own song inspired by the show, with a “Je”-filled chorus.

Sukoshi odoroku je! When it’s a little surprise ‘Je!’
Futsuu ni odoroku je! When it’s an every-day surprise ‘Je! Je!’
Sungoku odoroku je! je! je! je! je! When it’s a big surprise ‘Je! Je! Je! Je!’
Nipponcyuu je! je! je! All through Japan ‘Je! Je! Je!’

Ever since the first episode, when Aki’s mother receives a message on her phone where “je!” is written using the emoji (‘j’), usage has been a huge hit on social sites such as Twitter.

‘Je!’ = (‘j’)/
‘Je! Je!’ = (‘jj’)/
‘Je! Je! Je!’ = (‘jjj’)/

jejejeje

“Okaasan taoreta! (‘j’)/” [Mum feinted! :O]

Or you could just make a macro by slapping the phrase on a picture of a surprised looking cat because, let’s face it, cute animals are what the internet’s really about.

je-cat

“Je je je je je!!!!!! Nanda are?” [Ahhhhhhhhhhh! What is THAT?]

Meme #3: Bai Gaeshi

nanbai

Our third meme also comes from a 2013 T.V. drama. “Hanzawa Naoki” centers around an incredibly bad-ass banker called (shockingly) Hanzawa Naoki (!), who works for the largest financial institution in Japan, Tokyo Chuo Bank. The series tracks the challenges and scandals he encounters as he climbs his way up the administrative ranks. His catch-phrase “yararetara yarikaesu, baigaeshi da!” means “If your enemies hurt you, take double the payback!”, and as the series progresses and his opposition get more dastardly it becomes “jyuubai gaeshi da!” (10 times the payback), and eventually ”hyaku bai gaeshi da!” (take 100 times the payback!).

Just like “ima desho!” and “je! (je!) (je!)“, this one-liner was a huge hit with internet users, and popped up all over the place as the show gained popularity.

Aside from the usual remixes, there is also (the rather difficult) “listen-to-the-phrase-for-three- minutes-non-stop” video challenge.

The interesting thing about the phrase “bai gaeshi da” is that without a specific context it can have a lot of meanings. It can be translated as “double the payback” or “give back twice as good as you get”, depending on how it is used. As a result, there have been numerous discussions about what else should be given or taken back in double.

rice

Image シモン

“Raisu tanonda hazu na no ni han raisu ga kita.”
[Even though I ordered a full portion of rice, I only got a half. Take double the payback!]

omiyage

Image シモン

“Omiyage wo”
[Souvenirs: give back double what you get]

Humor really is one of the most awesome forms of communication out there; sharing a joke and laughing with someone allows you to break down barriers, establish common ground, and I know I would be more likely to want to spend time talking with someone who can make me laugh. Moreover, language learning is more efficient, beneficial and, well, fun (!) when you are enjoying yourself as you study, so exposing yourself to Japanese humor seems like a pretty good idea overall. One of the great things about these memes is that they’re not exclusively used online – they have been appearing on T.V. and in real-life conversations throughout the year, so you can work them into both your written and spoken Japanese!

Do you know any other Japanese memes that can be easily understood by English speakers that you can share in the comments?

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Bonus Wallpapers!

japanesememes-700
[2560×1600] ∙ [1280×800]

  • .k3NiCHi

    Great article, but WTF is “Hadonking”??

  • Chuck

    Just one comment: in the “ima desho” section, you said that to make the meme more variable, people have been substituting the “ima” for another word. But it seems like the ima desho seems constant (at least in the examples you’ve given), and what they’re changing is the “yaru” part of the first sentence–in other words, you’re changing what they’re doing, not when they’re doing it (they’re always doing it NOW). (i.e. “Itsu KOROSU ka? [When are you going to kill them?] Ima desho!)

  • Ai Chusyu

    I believe it’s taken from “Hadouken” > “Haodoukening” > “Hadonking”; Referenced from Street Fighter.

  • Ai Chusyu

    I believe it stems from “Hadouken” > “Hadoukening” > “Hadonking” ; Reference from Street Fighter.

  • Vomitcore

    I’m surprised that in the top three of japanese internet memes, there aren’t any cat.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    The kanji is different, though, the example:

    今でしょう (right now)
    居間でしょう (in the living room)

    So, while it sounds exactly the same, the meaning is completely different. You’re saying “where are you going to kill them? In the living room” instead of saying “right now,” just because of the kanji switch.

  • Esperanza de Arcenegui

    Hi! Great article! One quick thing though… Isn’t the じぇ! from the show あまちゃん? And not あめちゃん?
    あま being 海女 due to the female divers?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    look at that, you’re absolutely right. I’ll get that corrected

  • linguarum

    Interesting – one thing though – what’s up with that picture? Itsu kororu ka?

  • HatsuHazama

    “but the “ima” in “ima desho” is replaced with “kau” ”

    Excuse me, but I believe this section written just above the Toyota advert is wrong. I don’t think ‘ima’ would be replaced, instead the ‘yaru’ would be, to make sense.

  • Kamisama

    Really good article. The Crabigator is pleased. You may continue learning Japanese with Koichi my Son.

  • Mwani

    This was a really awesome article. I thought it was fun to learn about the different memes going on in Japan. Thank you. I think you should make it like an annual article, to keep us caught up on Japanese Internet culture, but explaining it for us too. It’s really great thanks. It’s interesting and funny to see what catches on in another culture.

  • Breana Clark

    Hate to be nit-picky, but shouldn’t the second “je” sentence be something like “It seems that not one of the members of The Boom, who play Okinawan-style music, are actually from Okinawa!”? Them not being from Japan doesn’t make any sense based on my understanding of the sentence in Japanese, and it’s not even factually-correct, because I’m pretty sure they’re all from somewhere in Honshu.

    Or am I misunderstanding the sentence in Japanese, and getting confused because of that?
    (Secondly, how I love The Boom! <3 )

    Thank you for an interesting article. ^-^

  • inna

    The main character’s name in Amachan is actually Amano Aki, not Ama-chan. :)

  • legendofleo

    Good article but I think a few things slipped passed the proof readers.
    1. やる (not 今) is replaced by 買う in the Toyota ad
    2. Your image says いつ殺るか when it should be いつ殺すか
    3. Your transliteration of Hanazawa Naoki’s catch phrase is wrong. It’s not “yarasetara baigaeshi da!” but rather (in romaji) “yararetara yarikaesu, baigaeshida!”.

  • Joshua Warhurst

    Some variations I’ve heard of the above:

    いつやるか? いまでしょ!:
    1)いつやるか? あとでしょ! (When will you do it? Later!)
    2)いつやるか? あすでしょ!(When will you do it? Tomorrow!)

    倍返しだ!:
    1)グッドバイがえし! ・ Goodbyeがえし! (When saying goodbye)
    2)かんぱいがえし! (Before drinking)
    3)パイがえし! (When giving someone a pie or asking for someone else’s pie, e.g. at mcdonalds)
    That pie example seems ridiculous, but there’s actually a lot of opportunity with words that sound like ばい

    Just make sure to present them like the original. Which is to say, doing the hand motions and slight squat of the いまでしょ! or the really dramatic presentation of 倍返し!

    Be a little cautious with any kind of meme of course! In America, Japanese people that aren’t 100% caught up with Japanese culture might be confused. In Japan, they hear these things so often that you have to be clever to use them without sounding washed up.

    Good luck using these! The more funny the merrier!

  • Anders

    4. The translation of THE BOOM sentence is wrong. The Japanese says none of them are from Okinawa while the translation says none of them are from Japan. As to which is factually correct I don’t know because I have no clue who THE BOOM are.

  • Ivan

    So… I dont know if this was already discussed, but the example of THE BOOM is translated a bit off. Here’s what you it says “THE BOOM ni wa okinawa no hito wa hitori mo i inai rashiiii yo”[It seems that not one of the members of The Boom, who play Okinawan-style music, are actually from Japan!]

    ザブームには、沖縄の人は一人もいないらしいよ。would be more accurately translated to, “It seems that not one of the members of THE BOOM (who play okinawan music) are actually from Okinawa. (not japan)

  • Aquariia

    Speaking of Hanzawa Naoki.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orcKFeC5XoY

  • Guest

    As Koichi mentioned, because the kanji has been changed the meaning of “ima” also changes, but there are certainly loads of examples where the “yaru” part is changed.
    “When are you going to bake cookies?”
    “NOW!”

  • Rebecca

    As Koichi mentioned, due to the change of the kanji from 今 to 居間 the meaning of the “when” part changes, but there are certainly plenty of examples where the “what” is changed too.

    “When are you going to bake cookies”
    “NOW!”

  • Rebecca

    It’s “koroSU”, meaning “to kill” or “to murder”. So it would translate as something along the lines of “when are you going to kill them?” “NOW!” 0_o

  • Rebecca

    You are more than welcome, and delighted to hear you enjoyed it. Thank you for the suggestion – I’ll do my best to produce another memes article next year!

  • Rebecca

    (Glad to meet another The Boom fan! Any song in particular that you’re a fan of?)
    Nitpickyness is always appreciated! You are absolutely right – the translation was supposed to read ‘are actually from Hokkaido!’ – thanks for catching the error. We’ll fix that asap.

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for pointing this out – another user caught this earlier and it’s going to be fixed asap.

  • Rebecca

    Hi Ivan. Thank you very much for your comment. Another user spotted this earlier, and we are getting onto fixing it now. Hope you enjoyed the article.

  • Rebecca

    ”やられてなくてもやり返す、やつ当たりだ!”
    That was WONDERFUL to say the least – thanks for sharing.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for both the feedback and teaching me something I never knew about Koichi’s origins…

  • Rebecca

    Hi Joshua. Thanks for a really interesting comment, and good point about the importance of making the gestures and not overusing them. A lot of people online are saying that ‘今でしょう” will probably not take the Buzzword of the Year award simply because everyone is so sick of hearing it!
    As for people not being familiar with it, I suppose it’s it’s the case with buzzwords and memes- I know my mum would have no idea what I was on about if I mentioned Philosoraptor to her… So like you say, being aware of your audience is always important.
    I like the idea of MacDonalds Japan making it policy for the employes to say “パイ返しだ!” every time someone ordered a pie!
    Can I ask if you heard those in real life, online, or both?

  • Joshua Warhurst

    All those are real life, except for the あとでしょ! one, which I heard on one of those TV shows I’m not sure how to classify (the ones with everyone sitting around and commenting on stuff).

    I’ve made a few original ones myself, but I hesitate to include those because even though they got laughter, sometimes just being a foreign who knows pop culture will get you laughs in Japan.

  • Rebecca

    It’s only the top three of this year and not of all-time, if that helps.

    Also here’s a cat, if that helps.

  • Rebecca

    Good eye, Anders. A few users have pointed this out all ready, and it’s going to be fixed ASAP.

    And if you don’t know who The Boom are, you are missing out.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCswh-TO6Us

  • Rebecca

    Hi there, and thanks for the comment. Really appreciate you pointing out these things.
    1 has been pointed out by a few users already, but you’re the first to catch on to 2 and 3. Will get on this ASAP, Sir!

  • Rebecca

    Thank you very much for pointing this out, and hope it didn’t spoil your enjoyment of the article too much. Will be fixed asap!

  • YouLo veMe

    You are really pretty, Rebecca, :)

    P.S. Also, good article.

  • Rebecca

    ‘Variety shows’ are what I think they are usually called.

    Now Joshua, do you really think we are going to let you get away with saying that you have made some but won’t share them? Cough up the goods!

  • DARPAChief

    I noticed that, too, but no, it’s “yaru”, not “kororu”. Nor is it “korosu” because the okurigana is clearly る. You can often find this usage in manga with the furigana や next to the kanji 殺. It’s kind of slang for “kill”. You might want to think of it like “do someone” gangland-style, but don’t think the nuance is that shady.

    See entry #10 here (there’s no entry for it in the J-E dictionary!):
    http://dic.yahoo.co.jp/dsearch?enc=UTF-8&p=%E3%82%84%E3%82%8B&dtype=0&dname=0na&stype=0&pagenum=1&index=18624400

  • Michael Richey

    Great article! I really like learning about fun parts of culture like this and especially when people share videos and memes I might not discover myself. Case in point, THAT AWESOME KIRBY VIDEO!

    Great job!

  • HatsuHazama

    Nah, nah, it’s fine, you can blame Koichi for teaching me to spot it : )

    Article was plenty good enough not to be spoiled by a small slip up here and there. But I now need to find out how to jump backwards dramatically myself ^_^

  • HatsuHazama

    Dat やる is a terrifying word. No jokes, look at the dictionary entry for it.

    http://beta.jisho.org/search/yaru

    I don’t know how on earth the Japanese live with some of their synonyms >_>

  • Breana Clark

    I love them all around…. but, actually, the first song of theirs I heard was 有罪, on one of the soundtracks for Tokyo Babylon (a lesser-known 90s CLAMP manga, a “prequel” of sorts to X), and I love Tokyo Babylon to pieces, so 有罪 is kind-of like a first love for me. :,3 And it’s interesting because it’s rather unlike most of their songs and not very Okinawan.
    But I do love most of their songs. ^-^

    And thank you! Always nice to have a site take note of user comments…. yet another reason why I adore Tofugu. <3

  • Joshua Warhurst

    Haha! The goods? More like, “cough up the bads!” See, if those are the kind of jokes I make in English, you can just imagine how terrible my comedy is in Japanese. 親父ギャグ? ってか 嫌にギャグ? (ほら!本当に俺のジョークということを聴くの?じゃあ、自業自得だね・・・)

    So, because Masato Sakai’s new drama is Legal High (season 2)…
    あ、半沢直樹が終わったから、リーガルハイ返しだ!

    Also, when you want your students to give their best:
    自分:いつ頑張るか? 
    生徒:今でしょーう (-_-;)

    Great to deliver to them boring information too:
    生徒:ね、先生?英語の覚え方は・・・大事なこと?
    自分:繰り返しだ!
    生徒:・・・

    Anywho, those were the only ones that I could remember on the spot. One month ago and it would have been much easier to remember. They happened, like, all the time.

    Like any good humor though, the best is when it happens spontaneously.

  • .k3NiCHi

    I figured as much. Was more of a rhetorical question as “Hadonking” is absolutely not a word that has ever been used before to refer to Street Fighter. Google that shit. =p

  • Rebecca

    Well, hopefully my eagle eyes will develop from hereon in with his help.

    Just be sure to wrap yourself in bubblewrap first!

  • Rebecca

    ここに親父ギャグの大ファンがいるよ!

    笑笑笑爆笑!

    Well, I for one really enjoyed those – sometimes corny jokes are the best and, as you say, are much funner when someone jumps out with them in real life.

    Are you working as a teacher in Japan? That’s great that you are using jokes like that to help keep your students motivated by using ‘current’ jokes – I imagine it helps them to relate to you a lot better.

    I love the 繰り返しだ!It actually appeared in Yoshimoto’s parody of baigaeshi, which is a bit long but worth a watch if you’re interested

    http://youtu.be/ATGjSlub1-E?t=10m40s

  • Rocky Huang

    Thanks for the hilarious article, I didn’t even realise some of these were memes. From one tea fanatic to another, you’re awesome.

  • Rebecca

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much, and good luck with using them in the future! If you could somehow work tea into one of them, I would be very impressed!

  • Rebecca

    Oh. My. Wow. This is a very good example of why you have to be careful with kanji! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Rebecca

    Hi Michael – thanks for the comment, and great job on the Yamauchi post. We were actually reading about him in Japanese class the other day, so it was really interesting for me (will be sure to comment when I get a spare moment – am being attacked by end-of-term exams at the moment).

    As good as the Kirby video is, I’m all about the Dubstep!

  • Rebecca

    Hm, feel like the comment should be in reverse order, but I’ll take the compliment! Glad to hear you enjoyed reading it.

  • Rebecca

    Wow, thanks for sharing. I just took a listen to 有罪 and you’re right – it’s not typical Okinawan music, but you can still here the influence. It’s really beautiful, and will definitely be going on my ipod.
    Must check out Tokyo Babalon too!

  • Rebecca

    This was a typo. Thank you for catching it :)

  • Menagerie Mate

    HASHI!! WE WANT YOU BACK!!

  • DeathPiggies

    Hi Rebecca!
    I’m a little late commenting on this but it’s Alice from CTYI :D
    Jordyn directed me to this post :) He’s continuing his Japanese as are many of us, you’ll be pleased to know :D
    This is awesome, we totally have to do the first one at the next Reunion. How have I not seen this before?! We could do it on a MASSIVE scale! And then the Algorithm March! (We’ll take lots of photos :P)
    Just uh yeah. Hi. :P

  • Koichi aka Hashi’s lover

    Sorry, Hashi and I are too busy.

  • DeathPiggies

    “doomed to bore the pants of others”. Off, perhaps? xD

  • dovorobuchin

    Homonyms are even better, with just a handful of sounds in the language… =DDD

  • dovorobuchin

    The じぇ from the first clip, at 0:07 rules!! X>

    Strange thing じぇ is also a very close pronunciation of the number 7 in my language… :3

  • Rebecca

    Really? Can I ask what your native language is?

  • Rebecca

    Hi Alice. Delighted to hear ye’re keeping up the study, and that you enjoyed the article

  • DeathPiggies

    When are you going to drink it? NOW! xD

  • dovorobuchin

    タイごです~ It’s pronounced like /dg’ed/ …or something.. Add the final sound to じぇ and that’s the pronunciation heheh

  • DeathPiggies

    いつ飲むか?いまでしょ!(I think.)