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Kotoba Asobi: Dajare – Learning the Japanese Style of Wordplay 2

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/19 Traditional Culture , , , , , ,

In our last post about Kotoba Asobi, we learned about Japanese palindromes or kaibun. In this post, we will learn another type of kotoba asobi which is the dajare or Japanese puns.


Pun – no, not that Japanese word for bread. That is pan! Pun is a form of word play which uses unrelated words of the same pronunciation (homophones), words that are spelled the same but have different meanings (homograph), metonymy (calling a thing or concept not by its own name but rather by the name of something it is associated with), and metaphors. A recent trend on Facebook, vaguely called Facebook Names, has got people changing the lyrics of a song to names of people.


The expression honno kimochi can be translated as “mere or just feelings” and is usually heard when someone is giving a gift. The expression can also be spelled as hon no kimochi which has a different and silly meaning: a book’s emotion. (Image from AC-Illust)

While English puns tend to be an ordinary sentence replaced with the aforementioned type of words to make the situation absurd or change the meaning, in Japanese, puns, which are called dajare (駄洒落), tend to have the same syllables said twice, carrying a different meaning the second time yet still making a completely understandable sentence.


The different types (spelled here as tai-pu) of Tai (Japanese for sea bream): koishitai (in-love tai), okoritai (angry tai), nemutai (sleepy tai), and tabetai (hungry tai). In Japanese language, ~tai is added to a word to express “want”. For example, tabetai, from the verb taberu which means “to eat”, means “want to eat”. (Image from AC-Illust)

Same as the English puns, Japanese puns are funnier to the teller than the receiver. When delivered, Japanese puns are to be said with a straight face, and are often reacted to with an even straighter face, as no one finds them funny. In Japan, listeners react to not funny jokes, especially dajare, by describing it as samui (寒い, lit. meaning cold).


Let’s learn some of these dajare and their meanings:

  • ニューヨークで入浴 (nyūyōku de nyūyoku) – taking a bath in New York

New York when spelled in katakana is ニューヨーク (nyūyōku), 入浴 (nyūyōku) means to take a bath

  • アルミ缶の上にあるみかん (arumi kan no ue ni aru mikan) – a mikan (Mandarin orange) on top of an aluminum can

Aluminum is shortened as アルミ (arumi) in Japanese, 缶(kan) has the same sound of its English translation, can. ある (aru) means to exist, and みかん (mikan) is a mandarin orange.

  • イルカがいるか (iruka ga iru ka?) – Is there a dolphin?
  • 塩がないのはしょうがない(shio ga nai wa shō ga nai) – It can’t be helped if there is no salt.

塩 (shio) is salt in Japanese while shō ga nai is an expression that means “it can’t be helped”

  • スキーが好き(sukī ga suki) – I like skiing.

スキー(sukī) is from the English word ski while 好き (suki) means “to like”.

  • 傷んだ廊下にいたんだろうか (itanda rouka ni itan darou ka?) – You were in the damaged hallway, weren’t you?

This one’s kind of clever. It formed a coherent sentence from using the same phrase twice. 傷んだ (itanda) means damaged, 廊下 (rouka) means hallway, いたん (itan) is the past tense of iru which means “to exist” and だろうか (darou ka) is a combination of two expressions is a sentence ender which can be translated as “right?”.

Dajare are also associated with oyaji gags (親父ギャグ), oyaji meaning “old man”, as an “old man” would be considered by the younger generation most likely to attempt dajare.

Do you know any dajare? Share it with us in the comments section below!

Before I end this post, here is some skit which shows how Japanese words can be fun and at the same time difficult featured in our previous post about urban legends:



1. Playing With Words Japanese Style: Kotoba Asobi. Tofugu.

2. Dajare. Wikipedia.

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