A Guide to Japanese Puns: Holiday Edition

This post was scrawled by those pun-ks at Tokyo Desu.

It turns out the image of serious, stoic Japan (not counting the country’s bizarre game shows) is a little misguided, because the Japanese absolutely love them a good pun. It’s comedy gold. Seriously; just ask the nearest old man how to get a Koi fish to come over to you and watch him roll around on the floor, cackling uncontrollably. Puns are such serious comedy business in Japan that there are loads of pun holidays and, in many cases, restaurants will even offer discounts and people go out of their way to make special plans that fit the holiday’s theme.

Here’s a selection of pun holidays to look out for if you’re visiting:

Jan. 5 – Strawberry Day (ichigo no hi/イチゴの日) – “ichigo” being the word for “strawberry” and the sound produced by combining the digits one and five, this one is the first official-unofficial pun holiday of the year! Some couples go strawberry picking on this day and you might find grocery stores offering discounted strawberries.

Feb. 9 – Fugu Day (fugu no hi/ふぐの日) – This is the day everyone takes their lives in their hands and enjoys that most deadly (and disappointingly bland) of marine species, the pufferfish. Again, this is a pun from the combination of 2 and 9.

Feb. 10 –  the recently celebrated NEET day (but also Knit Sweater Day, depending on who you ask) –  It’s the day we all get to take the day off work and be lazy wastes of Japan’s social safety net! …Well, most of us still have to go to work because, as much as we wish otherwise, NEET Day is an unofficial holiday.

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See, NEET (“Not in Education, Employment or Training”) refers to Japanese young people who aren’t in college or working – which, by process of elimination, almost certainly makes them professional Smash Bros.players – and, if you put the numbers 2 and 10 together and say them the right way in Japanese, it sounds a lot like “NEET” (ニート); thus, Feb. 10 (2/10) is the day we show our appreciation to the misunderstood NEET kids of Japan and we all collectively – for one day only – get off their backs about getting a job and maybe, like, showering more than once a week.

March 8 – Honey Day (mitsubachi no hi/みつばちの日) – This one was actually lobbied for by honey farmer groups and comes from the combination of 3 and 8.

May 6 – Condom (!!!) Day – (gomu no hi/ゴムの日) – A day celebrating safe sex awareness, and/or dirty photos of girls holding condoms on Twitter (no, seriously).

May 30 – No Garbage Day (gomi zero no hi)/ごみゼロの日)– A day for environmentally aware persons to abstain from any activity that might produce garbage and for others to just secretly stash all their garbage in their pants pockets until the next day.

July 3 – Surfing Day (nami no hi/なみの日) – Combine 7 and 3 and you get “Nami,” or “Wave.”

July 10 – Natto Day – (natto no hi/納豆の日) – We don’t know what people do on this day. We usually leave the country on this day every year just to be safe.

Aug. 8 – Beard Day – (hige no hi/ひげの日) – Now here’s where things get a little more interesting. This pun holiday comes from the fact that an 8 looks kind of like a guy with a beard, and 8/8 looks like two best beard buddies just hangin’ out, probably drinking some PBRs and talking about the latest sale on flannel at the thrift store. (This one’s also known as “Laughing Day” because “8-8” sounds like “ha ha.”)

Aug. 31 – Vegetable Day – (yasai no hi/野菜の日) – 8-3-1 = “ya-sa-i,” or “vegetable.”

Nov. 1 – Dog Appreciation Day (inu no hi/犬の日)– This one takes a little bit of pun acrobatics to understand, as normally, in Japanese, 11/1 would be, “ichi ichi ichi,” but say it in borrowed English with a Japanese accent and it becomes, “wan wan wan” – the onomatopoeia for a dog’s bark in Japanese.

Nov. 11 – Pocky Day (and, like, 15 other holidays)  – There aren’t any language puns going on here, but the shape of four ones all in a row conjures the image of a neatly organized row of Pocky. Lately, 11/11 is also known as “hashigo nomi no hi,” – literally, “ladder drinking,” the Japanese phrase for a pub crawl – because it looks like a ladder, or four people standing in a row. It’s also known as Soccer Day, because soccer teams are 11 vs. 11.

Nov. 29 – Good Meat Day (ii niku no hi/いい肉の日)– Finally (since this list is getting pretty long at this point) we have our favorite pun holiday. The “11” for November looks like the hiragana characters, “いい” – which means good – and two and nine together sound like “niku” (meat). A lot of yakiniku Korean barbecue places have special deals and discounts on this day, and some take it a step further and offer deals on the 29th of every single month. It is truly the most special of days.

Well, this piece is already leaps and bounds longer than our usual stuff, even though there are literally dozens more of these pun holidays on the books, but we’re thinking we’ll call it here and go out and grab a beer to celebrate the comedic genius of Japanese pun holidays.

Besides, listing out every single one of these holidays would be just……


(If you’re studying Japanese, you can check out a more or less complete list of all the pun holidays here)

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