Goroawase: Wordplay to Remember Dates the Japanese Way!

  • It is amazing how helpful rhymes can be when trying to recall dates. For instance the English mnemonic rhyme, “thirty days hath September, April, June and November…” allows us to recall easily how many months within a year have fewer days. In Japan, children also use the phrase nishi muku samurai (the samurai looking west) as a wordplay to remember dates. Ni, shi, mu, and ku are numbers two, four, six, and nine which represent nigatsu (February), shigatsu (April), rokugatsu (June), and kugatsu (September). The samurai which bears the kanji character 士 is like a combination of the characters of juichi (十一) or eleven which also represents juichigatsu (November).


    Goroawase: Remembering the Dates


    Goroawase or number wordplay has been deeply instilled in the daily life of every Japanese. The various pronunciations of numbers from zero to nine allow several mnemonics to be devised. For instance, the number four could be represented as yon or shi. Perhaps one of the many reasons why Japanese are very keen with the years which correspond to a certain historical event is also because of goroawase. A very good example is the mnemonic igo yosan ga fueta (budgets increased after that) which stands for 1543. This particular year was associated to the time when the Portuguese introduced firearms to Japan.

    Goroawase and Poetry


    Another useful number wordplay is naku yo uguisu (Sing, bush warbler!) which is a poem used to represent the year 794 (naku yo) which is the transition period of Japan’s capital city from Nara to Kyoto (formerly Heiankyo). There is also a haiku which gives a hint about the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in the year 1603. In fact, there are several versions of mnemonics used for this period. One of the most famous mnemonics is bakufu deki / hitomure sawagu / edo no machi which in English translates to: The shogunate is formed / crowds of people raising uproar / in the streets of Edo. The year 1603 is represented by hito (one) mu (six) re (zero) sa (three) in the line “hitomure sawagu.”

    Do you know any mnemonic rhymes in Japanese? What are some of your favorites from your own language?

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