japanese-puns

So Bad They’re Good: 18 Japanese Puns and Jokes 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, but they also allow you to learn a bit about Japan’s culture and writing system and even help you memorize the different readings of certain kanji.

Here’s a list of some of the funniest, cringiest Japanese puns for your enjoyment.

Contents

Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Puns

As you’re about to see, Japanese puns are pretty similar to English ones. Both are created by playing around with word meanings and readings.

But, while English puns often play with the meaning of words, puns in Japan 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 wordplay that relies on words’ similarities to create a simple joke. For example:

スキーが好き。 (すきー が すき。)— I like skiing.

There’s nothing funny about that, right? The joke is actually 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” ( すき ) twice in a row.

Still not funny? Well, such is the way of puns, no matter the language.

In English, dajare would be considered “homonym-based puns.” Homonyms are words with the same spelling and/or pronunciation but different meanings.

What’s in a Name?

Unlike in 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 with 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—including 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.

Keep It Clean

It’s also worth noting that most Japanese people, particularly older citizens, aren’t amused by sarcasm and dark humor like Americans are. Because of this, puns in Japan are often very tame in nature and emphasize charming wordplay over shock humor.

Japanese puns may also be referred to as 親父ギャグ (おやじ ぎゃぐor “old man gags,” which is the Japanese version of “dad jokes.”

And now, let’s check out some puns to groan over!

1. イクラはいくら? — How much is salmon roe?

Hiragana: いくらはいくら?

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 as “ikura.” 

2. パン作ったことある? — Have you ever baked bread?

Hiragana: ぱん つくった こと ある?

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。 — The orange on top of the tin can.

Hiragana: あるみかん の うえ に ある みかん。

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! — The local district president also has hemorrhoids!

Hiragana: じもと くちょう は ぢ も とくちょう !

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) have similar pronunciations: jimotokuchō ( じもとくちょう ).

5. つまらない妻。 — A boring wife.

Hiragana: つまらない つま。

How rude! つま (the first part of “boring”) and (wife) are both pronounced “tsuma.”

6. くもの味はどんな味ですか? すっぱいだ! — What’s the flavor of a spider? Sour!

Hiragana: くも の あじ は どんな あじ です か? すっぱい だ!

This Japanese pun is a play on 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” read with a Japanese accent.

So, the spider would taste both like a spider and sour. Sour spider gummies, anyone?

7. 梨は無し。 — There is no pear.

Hiragana: なし は なし 。

This pun is pronounced “nashi ha nashi.” Where’d it go?

8. 善し由。— Good reason.

Hiragana: よしよし。

This pun is especially fun to pronounce: “yoshi yoshi.”

9. 布団が吹っ飛んだ。 — The futon (bed) was blown away.

Hiragana: ふとん が ふっとんだ。

This pun just sort of rolls off the tongue.

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。 — I want a star.

Hiragana: ほし が ほしい。

星が欲しい 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。 — It isn’t Western-style but it’s strange-looking.

Hiragana: ようし きばつ です が、ようしき ばつ です 。

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 (ようし きばつ です が).” 

洋式バツです (but it is not western style) is said: “yōshiki batsu desu (ようしき ばつ です).” 

Even to a native Japanese speaker, a lot of Japanese jokes—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! — What’s a panda’s favorite food? Bread!

Hiragana: ぱんだ の すきな たべもの は なん です か? ぱん だ!

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. イルカは居るか? — Is there a dolphin?

Hiragana: いるか は いるか?

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? — Were you in a damaged corridor?

Hiragana: いたんだ ろうか に いた ん だろう か?

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。  — The frog is coming back.

Hiragana: かえるが かえる。

Both  (frog) and 帰る (coming back) are read as “kaeru” ( かえる ). 

16. 職員は、どこで食べたり飲んだりするん?食飲室で! — Where do the teachers eat and drink? In the staff room!

Hiragana: しょくいんは、どこで たべたり のんだりするん?しょくいんしつ で!

職員 (staff) and 食飲 (eat and drink) are both read as “shokuin ( しょくいん ).” 

17. 日本は海に落ちて、ジャッパーン! — Japan falls into the sea and makes a splash!

Hiragana: にほんは うみに おちて、じゃっぱーん!

This is a play on the English word for “Japan” and the onomatopoeia チャップン (ちゃっぷん), which is the sound of a large “sploosh,” or splashing. ジャッパーン (the katakana for “Japan”) and チャップン sound somewhat similar, giving rise to this pun.  

18. ありが唐辛子。 — Thank you, Paprika.

Hiragana: ありがとうがらし。

To understand this pun, you have to understand the concept of しりとり , a word chain game that also sounds like the characters for “taking butts” ( 尻取り ).

The rules of しりとり are straightforward: one person writes a word, and the next must write a word that starts with the last syllable or character of the previous one. So, you’re taking the “butt” or the end of one word to start another.

In this case, ありがとう (thank you) ends with とう , which is the first syllable of とうがらし (paprika). 

When using this in front of actual, real people, emphasize the middle syllable, とう, for that special comedic oomph.

 

We bet if you throw a couple of these 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.”

You can also level up your Japanese pun game by honing your listening and vocabulary skills with every chance you get. For example, you can watch any of the Japanese videos on FluentU and pay close attention to anything that sounds like wordplay.

If you want to see more examples of the beauty (and hilarity) of Japanese wordplay, check out these articles on Japanese proverbs, slang and the sentence structure patterns that tie them together.

Good luck and have a punny good time! 

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