Learning through laughter absolutely works!
Improve Retention of Japanese Vocabulary Through Funny Mnemonics! For beginning through advanced students
What is だじゃれ (dajare)? You'll see better with examples below, but basically it is a pun or play on words. In English, for example:
I phoned the local gym and I asked if they could teach me how to do the splits. He said, "How flexible are you?" I said, "I can't make Tuesdays."
“I've got a friend who has got a butler whose left arm is missing – serves him right.” - Tim Vine
The humor in Japanese puns comes through exploiting similar-sounding words. The best Japanese puns contain homonyms--two words that sound the same but mean different things.
Japanese people like silly humor and there is something very funny and silly about using the same word, but with different meanings, twice (or more!) in a sentence. It is not something that happens a lot in English humor. You won’t have many opportunities to use these phrases unless you are having a conversation specifically about wordplay. But, this is a good way to learn vocabulary!
Let's get started with easier Japanese puns. I have highlighted the words that have similar sounds, but different meanings.
Hoshi ga hoshii
I want a star.
You see, there are two instances of the same word in this sentence, but each has a different meaning.
「～(noun)がほしい」 (colloquial), or 「～(noun)がほしいです」 (formal) ~ga hoshii / ~ga hoshii desu
means "I want something." This only works for desiring things; in order to say, “I want to (do something),” you use 「～たい」.
The kanji 星 hoshi means “star”.
If your manic pixie dream girl asks you for a star, just get it. All right?
Ikura wa ikura?
How much is salmon roe?
Ikura means both “how much” and “salmon roe”.
In this case, the pattern is:
「～はいくら？」 (colloquially), or 「～はいくらですか」 (formally).
~ wa ikura (desu ka) means, “How much is ~?”
The word イクラ actually comes from Russian. So, it's not exactly a Japanese word, but this is classic. All Japanese people know this pun. And, if you are a sushi lover, it's worth knowing it. You can use it next time you are ordering sushi if you want to be funny.
My boring wife
The formal way to say “boring” is つまらない (tsumaranai). More colloquially, つまんない (tsumannai) is used.
For example, you might say to your friends:
Kono eiga tsumannai
This movie is boring!
妻 (tsuma) means "my wife" in formal speech. 夫 (otto) means "my husband."
I’m not sure when there will be a situation that you can use this jokingly. It’s quite insulting. Maybe this could lighten the mood if you needed to complain about your wife.
Kusa ga kusai
The grass stinks.
くさい (kusai) is an adjective which means “stinky” or “smelly.”
You can also say:
X wa Y kusai
X smells/stinks like Y.
Tomodachi no ie wa inu kusai
My friend's house smells (stinks) like dogs.
If you wanna say it more politely, you can say:
X wa Y no nioi ga suru.
におい (nioi) means "a smell".
Kono seetaa (wa), tabako no nioi ga suru / shimasu. This sweater smells like cigarette.
草 (kusa), meanwhile, means “grass”.
Imagine lying down on the grass on a warm summer’s day to relax, but suddenly… you see that this part of the grass is for dogs to do their… you know, business. “Ahh, kusa ga kusai!!!”
Wakusei ga waa, kusee
The planet...oh goddamn...stinks.
惑星 (wakusei) means “a planet”, わー (waa) is like "Whoa", and くせー (kusee) comes from the word くさい (kusai), which we just covered above. くせー is more colloquial than くさい (and, in fact, would sound rude in a formal situation) and sounds masculine, but otherwise, the usage is the same as くさい.
あのハエ、はえー。 ano hae, haee That fly is quick.
ハエ (hae) is a fly. はえー (haee) comes from the adjective はやい (hayai), which means either "fast, quick” (in which case it’s written 速い), or “early” (in which case, it’s written 早い).
Some of you might realize this, but はえー (haee) is more colloquial and has a masculine vibe, in the same way that くせー (kusee) is a more colloquial, masculine-sounding version of くさい (kusai).
Imagine chasing a fly throughout your house. It has been annoying you all day with its buzzing. You are jumping over furniture, covered in sweat and out of breath, but you just can’t catch it. “Arggh!! Ano hae haee!”
俺の鼻毛はなげー。 Ore no hanage wa nagee. My nose hair is long.
俺 (ore) is a word that means “I” or “me”. There are multiple ways to say “I” in Japanese, like 私 (watashi) or ぼく (boku). 俺 (ore) is another one, but it has a rough, masculine vibe and is very colloquial. Some people think it’s rude, but I swear, it’s not! I prefer it to ぼく (boku), because most of the time, ぼく sounds childish or like a mummy’s boy.
鼻 (hana) means “nose”. 毛 (ke) is “a hair”. 鼻毛 (hanage) means “nose-hair”--and notice how the pronunciation changes from ke to ge.
なげー (nagee) is a word just like くせー and はえー. In this case, it comes from the word 長い（nagai), which means "long". As I study German, I often find myself thinking,
Kono doitsu go no kotoba, nagee.
This German word is long…
Imagine seeing your friend with a long ugly hair protruding from their nostril. You can’t help it. You just have to grab it and pluck it out. “Ewww.” You have to explain yourself so you tell them, “Hanage wa nagee!”
Pajama wa jama
Pyjamas are in the way.
じゃまな (jamana) is a na-adjective which means "obstructive".
じゃまする (jama suru) is a verb which means "to disturb / to get in the way".
パジャマ (pajama) means “pyjamas”.
Benkyou no jama wo shinaide
Don't disturb my studies.
You might use this one if your room is very dirty. There are clothes everywhere, particularly pyjamas. There’s so many clothes, in fact, that your mom can’t get through the door. “Pajama wa jama!” she screams.
Mushi wo mushi suru.
I ignore bugs/insects.
虫 (mushi) means "bug" and "insect.”
無視する (mushi suru) means "to ignore".
Nande mushi shiteruno?
Why are you ignoring me?
Hoshi ga hoshii tte iwarete, dou henji shitara ii ka wakaranai yo.
I don't know how to respond to you saying ‘I want a star’…
Chikaku no kagu no nioi wo kagu.
I sniff the smell of furniture nearby.
近い (chikai) is an i-adjective that means “near, close”. For instance, 「駅は近い」 (eki wa chikai) means, “The station is near.” But, you have to change the word into 近くの (chikaku no) in order to put it in front of a noun. Take this, for example:
Chikaku no konbini ni iku
I (will) go to the convenience store nearby.
家具 (kagu) means “furniture”.
匂い (nioi) means “smell”, as we already covered above.
嗅ぐ (kagu) means “to sniff”.
Kasa wa kasanai
I don't (or won't) lend my umbrella.
傘 (kasa) is “umbrella”. Not “house” (casa) like in Spanish or “cash desk” (kassa) like in Russian. ;)
貸す (kasu) means “to rent, lend”. The negative form of this verb is kasanai.
Imagine it’s raining. It’s pouring down hard. You are outside with your umbrella and a man comes up to you, asking to borrow your umbrella. “Kasa wa kasanai!” you say.
Inaka ni hito wa inakatta.
There was no person (no one) in the countryside / rural area.
田舎 (inaka) means “countryside, rural area”.
人 (hito) is the word for “person”.
いない (inai) is the negative form of verb いる (iru), which means “to exist, there is” (for living things). And いなかった (inakatta) is the past negative form: "There was not" .
Goukaku suru tameni go wo kaku
I write "five" to pass the exam.
合格する (goukaku suru) means “to pass (an exam)”.
A strict person might think, "But it's goukaku, not gookaku, so it doesn’t rhyme!" But that’s not the case. OU sounds are always pronounced with a long o vowel sound like "ohh".
For instance, 公園 (kouen), which means “park’, is pronounced “koOen”. もう (mou) means “already” and is pronounced “mohh”. “I agree,” そうだね (soudane) is pronounced “soOdane”. And so on.
The infinitive form of a verb + ために (tameni) means “in order to (verb)”.
五 (go) is the word for “five”.
書く (kaku) means “to write”.
Japanese people don't actually write "five" in such an exam situation. However, we do write the kanji for “person”, 「人」 (hito), on our hand three times with our finger and then pretend to swallow it when we are nervous.
面白いでしょ。 Omoshiroi desyo. Funny, huh?
Tamago wo yudeta mago.
My grandchild who boiled an egg.
卵 (tamago) means “egg”.
ゆでる (yuderu) means “to boil something that isn’t water”, and ゆでた (yudeta) is its past tense form.
孫 (mago) is the word for “grandchild”.
Also, ゆでたまご (yude-tamago) means "boiled egg". It doesn't mean "boiled grandchild" (yudeta-mago).
Atarashii mono ga atta rashii.
I've heard that they found a new one.
新しい (atarashii) is an i-adjective that means “new”.
もの (mono) means “thing, stuff”.
あった (atta) is the past tense of the verb ある(aru), which means “to exist/to be” for things that aren’t living. あった means “there was”.
～らしい (~rashii) means “I've heard that ~” or “There is a rumor that~”.
For instance, 「明日は雪らしい」 (ashita wa yuki rashii) means, “I've heard that it will snow tomorrow.”
Aki wa mou akiaki.
I'm tired of autumn. / I'm fed up with autumn now.
秋 (aki) means “autumn”.
～はもう飽き飽き (~ wa mou akiaki) means “I'm fed up with~”.
The verb 飽きる (akiru) means “to get tired of”. For instance,
Kono geemu wa mou akita.
“I got tired of this game” or “I'm tired of this game now.”
You can also use this phrase interchangeably: 「～にはもううんざり（してる）」 (~ ni wa mou unzari (shiteru)). It means, “I'm sick of ~.”
Resutoran de hataraku no ni wa mou unzari!
I'm sick of working at the restaurant!
Imagine that autumn has dragged on too long. You can’t bear to see another colourful leaf and you just want it to snow. “Aki wa mou akiaki”, you say.
Tousan no kaisha ga tousanshita
My dad's company went bankrupt.
Maybe this isn’t a laughing matter. Anyway…
（お）父さん ((o)tousan) means “dad”.
会社 (kaisya) is the word for “company”.
倒産する (tousan suru) means “to go bankrupt”.
You could also say
Kaasan wa kaisya wo kaisan shita
My mom dissolved her company.
...though maybe this is too advanced to be funny. ^^;
Hopefully, you don't have to use this funny-sounding phrase.
fuan na fan
an anxious/worried fan (e.g. Belieber)
ファン (fan) obviously comes from English -- it describes a person who is really devoted to something or someone.
不安な (fuan-na) is a na-adjective that sounds like “fan” if you pronounce it quickly, and it means “anxious” or “uneasy”.
People often say:
Syourai ga huan
I'm worried/insecure about my future.
Nihongo ga umaku naru ka huan.
I'm unsure if my Japanese will improve.
If you find yourself saying that, my response to you is: Don't worry, 大丈夫 (daijoubu)! I will do my best to help you :)
If there are any questions, feel free to ask me!
Thank you for reading.
Oh, wait. The last classic one:
Yonde kurete, ari ga juppiki, arigatou.
読んでくれて (yonde kurete) means “for reading it for me”.
アリ (ari) is “ant”.
十匹 (juppiki) is how we count ten animals.
十 (juu), which means "ten", can also be pronounced "tou".
So, did you get it? "Ari ga tou" does not really make any sense grammatically, but literally is translated like "10 ants". So, it sort of sounds like "Wow, there are 10 ants! We gotta be thankful for that."
とにかく！ Tonikaku Anyways!
I hope that was a novel way to pick up some new words.
ありがとう。 またね(^^)/ - Thanks. See you again.
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