Mnemonic goroawase system

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 (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

    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, 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、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


    As mnemonics

    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.".

    Other examples

    15 is "jū go"; but 1 5 is "Ichi Go" or Ichigo Kurosaki, the main character in Bleach. Ichigo is also "Strawberry" in Japanese. Also in the series, Ichigo is referred to as Ichi-ni or sometime Ichi-ni-san by his sisters, meaning 1 2 or 1 2 3 respectively.

    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.

    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.

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

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

    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.

    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.

    See also