This week I wanted to look at Japan’s fascination with dajare (ダジャレ) or “wordplay/puns” and how their love for them has permeated itself into Japanese customs and media. (I’ve talked about Japanese humour before in Japanese Jokes for English Speakers.)
Japan’s Lucky Poop Dajare
One of Japan’s most weird and iconic custom is poo. There is a weird obsession with it to the point where you can buy cute faced poop keychains, and golden poop statues at shrines.
So why the poop? In Japanese poop can either be “unko” (うんこ) or “unchi” (うんち), however, “un” (うん) also means luck or fortune (運). Hence the large number of poops you can buy, because they’re lucky charms.
This isn’t the only poop play on words I’ve come across. I recently found Nyanchi on the popular Japanese talking app LINE. Nyanchi is a set of cat characters with poops for heads (see bellow). Again playing on the words “nyan” (the sound cats make in Japan, not “meow”), and the “chi” from “unchi”.
Certain Victory Kit-kats and Katsu-don Dajare
If you have ever studied in Japan or hung out with Japanese sports players you may have heard of this one. Before a big test or a big match some Japanese people will eat kit-kat (キットカット) or katsu-don (カツ丼). (Katsu-donare fried pork cutlets cooked in a Japanese soy sauce mixture with onions over a bed of steamed rice.)
The reason these are eaten before a test or sports match is because かつ means “to win” (勝つ). So you either have a bowl of win (katsu-don), or you eat “certain victory” (kitto/きっと meaning “certain”). Kit-kat in Japanese isn’t exactly pronounced “kitto katsu” (it’s “kitto katto”) but the company Kit-Kat in Japan doesn’t care and uses it every year in its advertising campaigns to sell more. And Japanese people love it!
Another dejare I found relating to kit-kats is this one about sakura (cherry blossom) flavoured kit-kats. Japan LOVES their seasonal flavours, especially seasonal kit-kats. This advert says “kitto sakura sakuyo”, meaning “Sakura will surely bloom” but playing on the “kitto” (キット) from kit-kat (キットカット).
Return Home Frogs Dajare
Another one of my favourites that I came across recently was an omamori with a frog on it. An omamori (お守り) literally means “protection”, and are protective charms you can buy at shrines for specific things like health, travel, study, work, finding a job etc. This one is for “returning home”.
So why the frog? You might have guessed by now but “frog” and the verb “to go/return home” are pronounced the same way – kaeru (かえる).
You will quite often see the ‘go home frog’ in shrines and the media.
Coughing Foxes Dajare
There is a very famous shrine near Kyoto called Fushimi Inari Taisha. Some of you may know it from Memories of a Geisha, others from the anime Inari Konkon Koi Iroha, and some might not know it at all.
For those that don’t know it is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the goddess Inari, she is a god of prosperity and success (so good crops, business, fertility etc). She is particularly famous for her fox assistants (the foxes are not Inari herself but are associated with her so much they are often called by the same name). Fushimi Inari Taisha, because houses a goddess for prosperity, gets a lot of visitors who are seeking wealth, including a large number of businesses who donate hundreds of thousands of yen to have a red tori gate with their company name erected on the mountain behind the shrine. The mountain (which you are free to climb up, it takes about 2 hours) is COVERED in tori gates, and more importantly, lots of smaller Inari shirnes (over 32,000).
But I digress. ONE of the 32,000 shrines is specially dedicated to healing colds, chest infections, and any illness where you might have a cough. This shrine is so popular for curing illnesses that people send letters to it which are posted in a little box in the shrine (meaning the postman must have to climb half way up a mountain to deliver them!)
So why a shrine dedicated to illnesses of the chest among shrines dedicated towards wealth and prosperity? Well the sound a fox makes in Japan is “kon kon” (こんこん), the same as the Japanese sound for coughing, “kon kon” (こんこん). This shrine houses fox spirits who will bark/cough for you, hopefully removing your illness faster.
There are many, many, many more dajare and Japanese culture but these are some of my favourites. Have you come across any of these? Or any which have been completely different? Feel free to tell us all about it and discuss it on the Japanese Talk Online Facebook page!