Archive for the ‘Japanese wordplay’ Category

Japanese wordplay: A&W

August 25, 2014

In Okinawa last year, I had lunch at an A&W root beer and hamburger shop. The placemat on my tray gave a brief history of the company, which has its origins in California and is named for founder Roy Allen and early co-owner Frank Wright.

Okinawa got its first A&W in 1963, and in the 1970s the company ran a radio ad campaign with a little gag that could only work in Japanese.

AW 001

According to the placemat, the ads connected A&W with the phrase あなたとわたしのドライブイン (Anata to Watashi no doraibuin). As any beginning student of Japanese knows, “anata to watashi” means “you and me,” so あなたとわたしのドライブイン was “our drive-in.”

Japanese wordplay: Sweet snack

September 14, 2013


This photo shows the lid of a container of Japanese junk food whose name is a delightfully awful pun. Do you get it?

If not, here are some clues.

First, sugar is a major ingredient. It is represented in Japanese by the character 糖 tou, which is prominently featured on the label. This character never appears on its own (as far as I know). But it is part of many common compound words. For example:

砂糖 satou (literally, sand sugar) is ordinary table sugar.
乳糖 nyutou (milk sugar) is lactose.
果糖 katou (fruit sugar) is fructose.
黒糖 kokutou (black sugar) is an extra-dark brown sugar commonly associated with Okinawa.
花林糖 karintou (flower woods sugar) is a poetically named fried snack, more commonly written かりんとう and usually flavored with black or brown sugar. (It’s not the snack shown in the photo, however.)
If you eat too much sugar, you may end up with 糖尿病 tounyoubyou (sugar urine disease), or diabetes. So you might want to look for products that are labeled 低糖 teitou (reduced sugar).

I think that’s enough talk about sugar for now. So, let’s turn to another common junk food ingredient: potatoes.

The basic Japanese word for potato is 芋 imo, often written as いも or イモ. This word can stand on its own, but also appears in a variety of compounds. For example:

里芋 sato imo (village potato) is a taro.
サツマイモ satsuma imo is a sweet potato. It is named after a place – the Satsuma domain in southern Kyushu, where it was first commonly grown.
ジャガイモ jaga imo is a common white potato. It is said to be named after a place even further south – Java – apparently because it first arrived in Japan aboard Dutch ships that sailed via Indonesia.
長芋 nagaimo (long potato) is a Japanese root vegetable similar to jicama in terms of its pale, bland and crunchy flesh, although its shape is long rather than round and its juice is viscous.

However, there is also a Japanese word for potato that comes from English: ポテト poteto. At any casual dining establishment in Japan, you are likely to find ポテトフライ poteto-furai, or French fries, somewhere on the menu.


And now you can see that the snack in the photo does resemble French fries. And its punny name is … PoteTOU.

Get it now?

The full wording on the lid reads: “A marvelous meeting of sweet and salty flavors: PoteTOU. A potato sweet that tastes like black sugar karintou.”

I bought this product because I found the name irresistible. But I only ate a couple of pieces because I don’t want to get 糖尿病.