So Bad They’re Good: 15 Japanese Puns Sure to Make You Groan
“I’ll never date another apostrophe. The last one was too possessive.”
You have to admit: Puns are funny because they’re just so bad.
Not only are puns a fun way to break the ice or crack a joke, they provide an excellent way to learn a bit about the Japanese culture and writing system and even to help you memorize the different readings of certain kanji.
Here’s a list of some of the funniest, cringiest Japanese puns around for your enjoyment.
- Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Puns
- 15 Japanese Puns Straight from Ja-pun: A Fun Take on Culture and Kanji
- 1. イクラはいくら？（いくらはいくら？）
- 2. パン作ったことある？（ぱん つくった こと ある？）
- 3. アルミ缶の上にあるみかん。（あるみかん の うえ に ある みかん。）
- 4. 地元区長は痔も特徴！（じもと くちょう は ぢ も とくちょう ！）
- 5. つまらない妻。（つまらない つま。）
- 6. くもの味はどんな味ですか？ すっぱいだ！（くも の あじ は どんな あじ です か？ すっぱい だ!）
- 7. 梨は無し。（なし は なし 。）
- 8. 善し由。（よしよし。）
- 9. 布団が吹っ飛んだ。（ふとん が ふっとんだ。）
- 10. 星が欲しい。（ほし が ほしい。）
- 11. 容姿奇抜ですが、洋式バツです。（ようし きばつ です が、ようしき ばつ です 。）
- 12. パンダの好きな食べ物は何ですか？パンだ！（ぱんだ の すきな たべもの は なん です か？ ぱん だ！）
- 13. いるか は いるか？
- 14. 傷んだ 廊下にいたんだろうか？（いたんだ ろうか に いた ん だろう か？）
- 15. 蛙が帰る。（かえるが かえる。）
Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Puns
Japanese puns are actually pretty similar to English puns: Both are created by playing around with word meanings and readings.
Still, there are some notable differences.
While English puns often play with the meaning of words (think back to the pun at the top of this post), Japanese puns are usually based on spoken word similarities.
Homonyms and Dajare
Japanese puns usually fall into the category of 駄洒落（だじゃれ）— Dajare, a type of comic Japanese wordplay that relies on similarities in words to create a simple joke.
These Japanese puns use words that sound the same but differ in kanji or katakana and meaning.
スキーが好き。（すきー が すき。）— I like skiing.
There’s nothing funny about that, right? Well, the joke is in the characters. スキー (skiing) and 好き (to like) both sound the same when spoken in Japanese, so you’re saying “suki” twice in a row.
Still not funny? Well, such is the way of puns, no matter what language they’re spoken in.
In English, Dajare would be considered “homonym-based puns.” Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and/or verbal pronunciation but have completely different meanings or several different meanings.
English has a lot of homonym-based puns as well. Check out a few below:
- Why did the teacher wear sunglasses? Because his students were so bright!
- They had a photographic memory that was never developed.
- The butcher backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind on the orders.
- The dentist and manicurist fought tooth and nail.
- She always broke into song because she couldn’t find the key.
What’s in a Name?
It’s worth mentioning that, unlike English, kanji characters have different readings based on context and even which direction a word is written in (horizontally or vertically). This can be used for wordplay puns in Japanese, especially when it comes to names.
For example, the names of the characters in the comedy anime さよなら絶望先生（さよなら ぜつぼう せんせい）— “Goodbye Teacher Despair” follow this type of written pun. The very name of the titular teacher, Nozomu Itoshiki, is purposefully misread throughout the series, even in the title.
Unless you have a really good understanding of kanji and its many meanings, this can be complicated for non-Japanese native readers to grasp.
We’ll be covering easier-to-understand Japanese puns in this blog post but if you’re interested, TV Tropes has a huge list of pop culture and even real-life instances of alternate kanji reading puns and examples.
Keep It Clean
It’s also worth noting that most Japanese people, particularly older Japanese citizens, aren’t super interested or tickled pink by sarcasm or dark humor like Americans are. Because of this, Japanese puns are often very tame in nature and focused more on charming wordplay rather than shock humor.
Japanese puns may also be referred to as 親父ギャグ（おやじ ぎゃぐ）— “old man gags” which you could say is the Japanese version of “dad jokes.” Either way, they’ll make you groan.
Taking Your Japanese to the Next Level
If you’re confused by any of the puns below or find some new words to study, don’t just write them down and forget about them! Take the time to understand their context. Look them up on dictionaries, search for language learning videos about them on YouTube—anything to gather as much info on the puns and relevant vocabulary as possible.
For other videos featuring your punny words, FluentU is another resource that can help reinforce those new terms, as the online language program uses interactive subtitles that show definitions, example sentences and other useful tidbits to help you understand their usage.
Puns can be great learning tools since they pair vocabulary with humor, making words easier to remember.
And now, let’s check out some Japanese puns to groan over!
15 Japanese Puns Straight from Ja-pun: A Fun Take on Culture and Kanji
How much is salmon roe?
Feeling hungry? イクラ (Salmon roe—a type of sweet caviar usually put on top of sushi) and いくら (how much) are both pronounced “ikura.”
2. パン作ったことある？（ぱん つくった こと ある？）
Have you ever baked bread?
No, but we’ve certainly eaten it before. (Gotta love carbs!)
The joke here is that パン つ (bread) sounds like パンツ (pants), which changes the sentence to パンツ食ったことある？（ぱんつ くった こと ある？）
It might be the same pronunciation, but the statement now translates as: “Have you ever eaten pants or underpants before?”
3. アルミ缶の上にあるみかん。（あるみかん の うえ に ある みかん。）
The orange on top of the tin can.
アルミ缶 (aluminum can) and あるみかん (an orange) are both pronounced “arumikan.”
4. 地元区長は痔も特徴！（じもと くちょう は ぢ も とくちょう ！）
The local district president also has hemorrhoids!
This is probably the only “offensive” Japanese pun on our list, but it’s also pretty hilarious!
地元区長 (Local district president) and 痔も特徴 (also has hemorrhoids) are both pronounced the same: “Jimoto kuchō” and “ji mo tokuchō.”
5. つまらない妻。（つまらない つま。）
A boring wife.
How rude! つま (the first part of “boring”) and 妻 (wife) are both pronounced “tsuma.”
6. くもの味はどんな味ですか？ すっぱいだ！（くも の あじ は どんな あじ です か？ すっぱい だ!）
What’s the flavor of a spider? Sour!
This Japanese pun is a play on both Japanese and English words together.
The Japanese word すっぱいだ (sour) is pronounced “suppaida,” which sounds similar to the English word “spider” pronounced with a Japanese accent.
So, the spider would taste both like a spider and sour. Sour spider gummies, anyone?
7. 梨は無し。（なし は なし 。）
There is no pear.
This pun is pronounced “nashi ha nashi.” Where’d it go?
This pun is especially fun to pronounce: “yoshi yoshi.”
9. 布団が吹っ飛んだ。（ふとん が ふっとんだ。）
The futon (bed) was blown away.
This pun just sort of rolls off the tongue like many other Japanese puns.
You would pronounce it as “futon ga futton da.”
Note that 布団 (futon) can also be used when referring to other types of bedding.
10. 星が欲しい。（ほし が ほしい。）
I want a star.
星が欲しい (I want a star) is sounded out as “hoshi ga hoshī.” Wish upon a star!
11. 容姿奇抜ですが、洋式バツです。（ようし きばつ です が、ようしき ばつ です 。）
It is not western style but it is strange-looking.
This one’s a bit of a tongue-twister and is difficult to say quickly.
容姿奇抜ですが (strange appearance) is pronounced: “yōshi kibatsu desuga.”
洋式バツです (but it is not western style) is said: “yōshiki batsu desu.”
Even to a native Japanese speaker, a lot of Japanese puns—especially the longer Dajare—are tongue-twisters. Can you say this one five times fast?
12. パンダの好きな食べ物は何ですか？パンだ！（ぱんだ の すきな たべもの は なん です か？ ぱん だ！）
What’s a panda’s favorite food? Bread!
パンダ (Panda) sounds the same as パン だ (it’s bread), or “pan da.”
Just don’t eat the panda, please.
13. いるか は いるか？
Is there a dolphin?
The word いるか means both “dolphin” and “is there,” and is pronounced “iruka” in both cases.
14. 傷んだ 廊下にいたんだろうか？（いたんだ ろうか に いた ん だろう か？）
Were you in a damaged corridor?
The words 傷んだ 廊下 (damaged corridor) are sounded out as “itanda rōka” and いたんだろうか (“were you in”) also sounds like “itandarou ka.”
15. 蛙が帰る。（かえるが かえる。）
The frog is coming back.
Both 蛙 (frog) and 帰る (coming back) are read as “kaeru.” Are you ready? Here he comes!
We bet if you throw a couple of these Japanese puns at a Japanese coworker by the water cooler, you’ll be met with silence or a forlorn 「あっ、寒い」（あっ、さむい）— “Oh… it’s cold in here.”
The level up your pun game, make sure to hone your listening and vocabulary skills any chance you get.
Good luck and have a punny good time!
Emily Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. She writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.