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Kotoba Asobi: Nazonazo – Learning the Japanese Style of Wordplay 4

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

Another fun form of Japanese wordplay is nazonazo. And just like the shiritori, it is fun to play with other people.

Word Puzzles/Nazonazo

Nazonazo is just the Japanese word for riddles. Riddles are design to make your minds work but a riddle in a non-native language will make your mind work harder. It is very challenging and at the same time rewarding. It will allow you to think about the language non-literally and teach your brain to interpret and think about things in a different perspective. Many of these Japanese riddles make use of the rules of dajare and written meanings of the words. As mentioned in the dajare post, jokes and stuff that makes use of same-sounding words are often called oyaji gag (親父ギャグ), oyaji meaning “old man”, as an “old man” would be considered by the younger generation most likely to attempt these kind of jokes.


(Image from AC-Illust)

Examples of nazonazo

Another trait of nazonazo that is shared with shiritori is that it requires knowledge of Japanese vocabulary. Here are examples of nazonazo (answers and explanation are hidden so you can try answering them, highlight to reveal):

  • おかしは3じ、いまはなんじ? (okashi wa san ji, ima wa nan ji?)

Snacks are at 3 o’clock, what time is it now?

Answer: ni ji (2字)

Explanation: Time in Japanese is expressed in ji (時). Number of characters, though with a different kanji (字), is also read as ji. Thus, if okashi (おかし) has three characters, then ima (いま) has two characters, 2 ji.

  • いつも修理が必要な調味料とは何? (itsumo shuuri ga hitsuyouna chiryou to wa nani?)

What spice/flavoring always needs repair?

Answer: koshou (こしょう, pepper)

Explanation: Koshou in Japanese can mean two things: pepper (胡椒) and breakdown (故障).

  • 1日に2回あるのに、1年に1回しかないものって何? (ichinichi ni nikai aru noni, ichinen ni ikkai shika nai mono tte nani?)

Answer: chi (ち)

Explanation: The character chi (ち) appeared twice in ichinichi (いちにち) but only once in ichinen (いちねん). It is the Japanese equivalent of the English riddle, “What happens twice in a moment, once every minute, but never in a hundred years?” which has the answer of letter M.

  • パンはパンでも食べられないパンは、なに? (pan wa pan demo taberarenai pan wa nani?)

A bread is a bread, but what bread can you not eat?

Answer: furaipan (フライパン, frying pan)

Explanation: Furaipan is the shortened version of the English word for frying pan and pan is also the Japanese word for bread.

  • 風邪ばかりひいている動物ってなんだ? (kaze bakari hiite iru doubutsu tte nanda?)

What animal always catches a cold?

Answer: kitsune (Japanese fox)

Explanation: This riddle requires some knowledge of Japanese onomatopoeia. In Japan, the fox’s sound is described as kon-kon (コンコン) which is also the onomatopoeia for coughing. (Want to know more about the kitsune? Read our posts here and here.

In popular culture, in every movie of Meitantei Conan (Detective Conan, known as Case Closed in the English-dubbed), Professor Agassa always gives riddles to the Detective Boys which they considered boring.

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


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

2. Nazonazo. Ameba JP.

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