39 Goroawase! - Japanese Word Play

One fun and unique feature of Japanese language is the ease with which you can create easy-to-remember phrases from numbers.

This is called ”goroawase”, and really does factor into daily life here in Japan.

For instance -

  • “39” or san-kyuu is thank you, sometimes used in online chat.
  • “1192” or iikuni, is the year the Kamakura bakufu government was established, with the idea of making a good country (ii kuni) .
  • “4649” or yoroshiku is used when you are asking someone to do something. This uses both readings of the numeral 4, ‘yon’ and ‘shi’.
  • “4946” or yokuyomu (often read), is used in toll free phone numbers for newspapers and magazines. Nikkei even has it in their website - http://www.nikkei4946.com/.

A friend asked for possibilities for a license plate so I offered these -

  • “3923” thank you, Nissan.
  • “4155” yoi, go go!
  • “3315” sa, sa, iko!
  • “9182” cu(t)ie honey.
  • “8251” honey koi!
  • “8888” hahahaha! (Lucky Chinese New Year?!)
  • “6480” guess it - if you’re a dentist.
  • “0340” osushi maru! (Love sushi!)
  • “0082” ore pa puu! (I’m a knucklehead)

See my Goroawase Reference Page for more examples.

Number-Sound Subtitutions

If you are in Japan and see a sign or advert with kana under numbers, here’s a list of possible substitutions you can try, to help you comprehend what is being written. This list includes onyomi (Chinese reading), kunyomi (Japanese reading), and English transliterations for your reference.

Please visit my Goroawase Reference Page for a list, and have fun learning Japanese!


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—by Rick Cogley