Goroawase: Japanese Numbers Wordplay How To Remember Japanese Telephone Numbers

    blue sign with yellow writing
    Source: hakosaku

    Goroawase means "wordplay" but I think it's quite a bit more interesting than that. In English, when I think of "wordplay" I think of comedy's highest and most elegant form of humor: Puns. In Japanese when I think of wordplay I think almost purely of mnemonics (wordplay that helps you to remember things better). If you spend any time in Japan, you'll see goroawase everywhere, especially in phone numbers. Want to learn how to use Goroawase for this, and other things as well? Read on.

    This post is probably going to make the most sense to people who are at a high-beginner (though probably more like intermediate plus) level of Japanese. The idea of goroawase will be interesting to everyone, no matter what the level, I think, but in order to understand the examples, you'll need to know hiragana at the very least).

    Goroawase And Phone Numbers

    One cool thing about Japanese is that there are basically multiple ways to read some of the same things and there are also multiple alphabets being used (don't know about this? Read up on it here). With numbers only, there are three different ways (or more) to read each one of them:

    1. On'yomi reading(s) of numbers
    2. Kun'yomi reading(s) of numbers
    3. English reading(s) of numbers

    Keep in mind that there are often multiple readings for each section (you'll see what I mean in a second). On average, I'd say that each number has 6 different ways to read and say it, at least when being used with wordplay. To simplify this out, let's take a look at a chart that shows all the different number readings. This will be in hiragana/katakana, so if you don't know these things, you should probably learn them (learn hiragana and you'll have completed the first step to starting to learn Japanese!).

    # Kun'yomi On'yomi English
    0 まる, ま れい, れ オ, ゼロ, ゼ
    1 ひとつ, ひと, ひ いち, い ワン
    2 ふたつ, ふ, ふた ツー, トゥー
    3 みつ, み さん, さ スリー
    4 よん, よ, よつ フォー
    5 いつつ, いつ ご, こ ファイブ
    6 むつ, む ろく, ろ シックス
    7 なな, ななつ, な しち セブン
    8 やつ, や はち, は, ば エイト
    9 ここのつ, こ きゅう, きゅ, く ナイン
    10 とお じゅう, じ

    There are other less common variations on the above chart that exist… sometimes you just gotta stretch and hope for the best, though the table above shows the most common ways to read all the different numbers, when it comes to goroawase.

    Also, as you might have noticed in this chart, a lot of these actually are shortened versions of the real thing. For example, さん goes down to さ or いち goes down to い. A lot of these things you just have to get used to hearing and seeing a bit, though they all generally make sense (as in, you could probably figure out that ろ is just a shortening of ろく).

    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 words above can be combined, changed around, and so on in order to create a sentence or phrase that makes sense (and will also make sure you don't forget the number). In America, we could make the phone number 364-3223 be DOG-FACE. In Japanese, you take the number and make something out of the sounds those numbers could be making.

    Here's some examples!

    Japanese phone number with kana above
    Source: fullmoonbattery

    8=ハ
    8=ハ
    2=に
    0=オ
    1=イ
    4=シ
    1=イ

    Put it all together, and you have 母に美味しい (good tasting to your mom). Considering this was a number for a rice-related thing, it makes sense. This rice tastes good to your mom!

    Japanese phone number
    Source: hakosaku

    This is for a dentist. The last four numbers make up the goroawase ムシバナシ. Make that into regular Japanese, and you have 虫歯なしむしばなし, which means "no cavities." Yeah, I think I'd remember that phone number.

    numbers 0348 on corner of menu
    Source: dailyportal

    I like this one a lot – the three in there, however is a little bit confusing. It's using the ス from スリー. As you can see there's a little bit of creativity going away from the chart provided above. The 0348 spell out おすしや (お寿司屋), which is a sushi restaurant. Cool!

    There are a ton more of these out there (because they're cool, and they kind of work!) – the couple of sites I was looking at for examples like this can be found here and here if you want to see some more.

    Goroawase In Dates

    close up image of calendar

    Now, if you want to be super dorky, you can start taking dates of the year and making days out of them (puns are the ultimate form of comedy, after all), you totally can now. There isn't really anything like this in English, as far as I can tell (at least to this extent). There's like something for every third day in Japanese, so if you're a fan of weird, partially non-existent, made-up goroawase holidays, look no further.

    There's a list of a ton of them over here – I'm going to list some of my more favorite ones right here, though.

    1月3日  ひとみの日  Hitomi's Day
    1月5日  いちごの日  Strawberry Day
    2月9日  ふぐの日  Fugu Day!!!
    2月9日  ふくの日  Clothes Day
    2月10日  ニットの日  NEET Day
    2月22日  ニャンニャンニャンの日  Cat Day
    3月9日  サンキュウの日  "Thank You" Day
    3月13日  サンドイッチの日  Sandwich Day
    4月15日  良い子の日  Good Kid Day
    4月18日  良い歯の日  Good Teeth Day
    5月3日  ゴミの日  Garbage Day
    8月2日  パンツの日  Underwear Day
    8月6日  ハムの日  Ham Day
    8月7日  花の日  Flower Day
    8月7日  バナナの日  Banana Day
    8月29日  焼き肉の日  Yakiniku Day
    11月10日 トイレの日(「いいと」イレ) Toilet Day
    11月29日 いい服の日 Good Clothes Day

    These are totally awesome, I think… though I feel sorry for the one dude who thinks he's being cute celebrating all of these days and more. There's always one…

    Goroawase And Mnemonics

    Now, while phone numbers and goroawase are probably considered mnemonics as well, I'd like to swing around and take a look at another thing goroawase are useful for, which is remembering other random things / numbers.

    This list of examples came from Wikipedia's Goroawase page, which can be found here. I'll list the ones I find the most interesting:

    1492 (discovery of America by Columbus)

    • いよくに = "It's a good country"
    • いよくに(がみえた!)= "Wow, I can see land!"

    23564 (23 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds – actual length of a day)

    • にさんころし → 兄さん殺し → "killing one's brother"

    3.14159265 (pi)

    • さんいしいこくにむこ → 産医師異国に向こう → "An obstetrician goes to foreign country"

    There's definitely more of these. Japanese people seem to like these more than Americans (at least in my experience). Definitely more memorable than "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nachos" to remember the planets, I think, but then I again maybe I'm just bitter about Pluto.

    Other Words In Goroawase

    There's also a bunch of words and phrases that can be created from and converted to numbers that are pretty interesting as well.

    • 4649 → よろしく → 宜しく (definition here)
    • 18782 → いやなやつ → 嫌な奴 (unpleasant dude)
    • 573 → こなみ → KONAMI (the company konami)
    • 893 → やくざ (Yakuza)
    • 765 → なむこ → NAMCO (the company Namco)
    • 39 → さんきゅう → サンキュウ (Thank You)
    • 0840 → おはよう (good morning)
    • 724106 → なにしてる → 何してる (What are you doing?)
    • 888 → ハハハ → Hahaha
    • 889 → はやく → 早く (Hurry)
    • 0906 → おくれる → 遅れる (Late)

    I can imagine someone texting numbers for things (like, my friends and I would do the 39 one a lot). Something like…

    0840 51。39。573 2 19。4649。
    Good Morning Koichi. Thank You. I will go to Konami. Please Take Care Of Me.

    You know… to save on texting costs… at least wayyy back in the day when you had texting limits and things. It could also be like a fun little code or word game (like Babigo!) but more difficult, I'd say. I guess that's why someone created a goroawase generator! 0.0

    The Goroawase Generator

    screenshot of website

    The Goroawase Generator (語呂合わせジェネレータ) is a site that's in Japanese that lets you put in numbers and get goroawase in return. It's pretty awesome, actually. I put in a bunch of random numbers and got out results that I'd possibly be able to remember later (without having to memorize the numbers themselves). These are totally random plus a few birthdays. This is kind of fun.

    • 3245 → ミニ死後 → ミニしご (mini after death)
    • 1023 → 自由兄さん → じゆうにいさん (free older brother)
    • 529 → こんにゃく (Konyaku)
    • 438299 → 市民馬糞客 → しみんばふんきゃく (Citizen horse poop visitor)

    If you want to use the generator yourself, just go here and type in some numbers. It can't come up with something for everything, but it's pretty darn good. You will have to know some Japanese (I'd say intermediate level or above) to use this, but if you are at this level, go enjoy! I definitely got a few lols out of it.

    Now, if you want to see where and how all these numbers are getting pulled and put together via this generator, there's also a data section.

    data table on website

    You can, for example, check out the 5 digit goroawase numbers that begin with 4. Or, if you're feeling frisky, you can check out the 11 digit goroawase that start with the number 9. Basically, with this page you can see how crazily flexible goroawase can be. I don't know how many of these exist, but you can almost bet that if it exists, it's probably findable here. The number is overwhelming (but really interesting to see).

    So, hopefully this post not only helped you figure out why Japanese commercials always read their phone numbers off so funny but also introduced you to the 41 world of Japanese Wordplay. You can write so much just using numbers – and unlike English, you won't look quite as crazy writing tons of numbers on the wall while claiming "the numbers are saying things." So, high five for that.