japanese-puns

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.”

Ha! Get it? Did you laugh or groan?

I bet you groaned.

But you have to admit: Puns are funny because they’re just so bad.

Whether they come from your dad, your cheesy boss or a writer trying to pen a catchy introduction, telling or hearing a terrible pun is quite an experience.

The silence that follows. The distant cough. The crickets.

The cringe brings us all together.

And if you’re learning Japanese or want to impress (or lose) a Japanese friend, you should probably stock up on some painful but funny Japanese puns.

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.

Ready to load up your arsenal of Japanese puns? We made a list of some of the funniest, cringiest Japanese puns around for your enjoyment.

First, let’s get into what Japanese puns are and how they differ from English-language puns.
 


 
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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.

For example:

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! Puns can be great learning tools since they pair vocabulary with humor, making words easier to remember.

Reinforce your learning by hearing vocabulary in many different authentic contexts with FluentUFluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

The immersive, entertaining content makes grammar and vocabulary much more memorable. And if you’re looking for a method to familiarize yourself with Japanese as well as deepen your knowledge of the culture, FluentU is the best way to go!

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

1. イクラはいくら?(いくらはいくら?)

The Meaning: 

How much is salmon roe?

The Pun:

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?)

The Meaning:

Have you ever baked bread?

The Pun:

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 Meaning:

The orange on top of the tin can.

The Pun:

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 Meaning:

The local district president also has hemorrhoids!

The Pun:

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。)

The Meaning:

A boring wife.

The Pun:

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!)

The Meaning:

What’s the flavor of a spider? Sour!

The Pun:

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 。)

The Meaning:

There is no pear.

The Pun:

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

8. 善し由。(よしよし。)

The Meaning:

Good reason.

The Pun:

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 Meaning:

The futon (bed) was blown away.

The Pun:

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。)

The Meaning:

I want a star.

The Pun:

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 。)

The Meaning:

It is not western style but it is strange-looking.

The Pun:

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!)

The Meaning:

What’s a panda’s favorite food? Bread!

The Pun:

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?

The Meaning:

Is there a dolphin?

The Pun:

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?)

The Meaning:

Were you in a damaged corridor?

The Pun:

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 Meaning:

The frog is coming back.

The Pun:

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.”

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.

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