Parody in Japanese

Japanese is a very difficult language to learn, that is, due to many aspects pertaining to some linguistic and sociocultural characteristics of the language. one of the least mentioned aspect of those are parody in Japanese. So I would like to discuss a few of the parody forms in Japanese.


Mojiri  is often translated as “parody,” and is defined as “to rephrase well-known words and expressions for the purpose of parody and humor.” In a broad sense, mojiri is a strategy for creating anew something that is similar to the original , and yet different from it. It involves mimesis and innovation.

Mojiri has a long tradition in Japanese literature. According to Amagasaki (1988), during the Edo period (1603-1867) the mojiri versions of tanka, of poetry written in Chinese, and of essays have appeared as 狂歌 ‘crazy (or parodic) tanka‘, 狂詩’crazy(or parodic) poetry’, and 狂文’crazy (or parodic) essay’, respectively. in fact there was a fad during the Edo period to produce mojiri versions of well-known (and well-respected) literary works of earlier periods. One such example is Ise Monogatari ‘The Tales of Ise’. The Tales of Ise is a collection of Japanese poems and prose called歌物語(poem tale). It is a collection of relatively short stories each built around one or more works of tanka. The earliest version, considered to have become the era’s standard version, dates back to the beginning of the tenth century.

Instead of the original Ise Monogatari, Nise Monogatari ‘(lit.) The Imitation Tale’ was produced between 1704 and 1711, presumably by Mitsushiro Karasumaru. Note here the phonological change from i to ni: Ise is a place-name while Nise literally means imitation. Many of the stories collected in Ise Monogatari start with a sentence (1), which introduces a certain man, the protagonist of the story. In Nise Monogatari, the man introduced turns out to be funny and strange as shown in (2).

(1) 昔男ありけり(むかしおとこありけり)

Once upon a time there was a man.


There was a funny/strange man.

The only change made is the phoneme (from mu of mukashi to o of okashi), and yet the mojiri version undoubtedly anticipates a story surrounding a “funny,” if not a “strange,” man.

Mojiri continues through the entire text producing the paradocally retold series of stories

Amagasaki (1988) discusses two types of mojiri: (1) the kind which uses a similar form but offers different content, and (2) the kind which offers similar content but uses a different form. The mojiri used in Nise Monogatari is the first type. it maintains the format of the original story. but the content is changed into a parody. The original literary work is changed into something less than literary, an entertainment for mass appeal.

Mojiri, like other rhetorical figures, demands attention to the use of language itself. In fact, the reader, when faced with a mojiri version is intensely interested in seeing how well the mojiri version tracks with the original. For example, the reader often praises the exquisite technique evident in the mojiri version . Still, mojiri differs from mimicry or comical impression (monomane), another well-known verbal art that involves mimesis; mimicry requires the speaker to imitate someone else, and the more they seem to be alike, the more entertaining it is. Mojiri, however, involves more than a typical mimicry.

The origin of the word ‘mojiri‘ comes from 捩るwhich have the meaning of 「ひねる」「よじる」「ねじる」all of which means ‘to twist’ and hence, ‘to parody’. Silly me I thought it was 文字るat first.

mojiri wasn’t applied to literature only, but also to Yojijukugo 四字熟語, it is also a form of parody as the mojiri version usually has a different meaning from the original, often funnier or  humorous.

We hear 「有言実行」(ゆうげんじっこう)a lot lately, which means to actually do the things you say you will, but the original Yojijukugo was 「不言実行」(ふげんじっこう)which means to just do things without blabbering about it. Also we have the famous 「焼肉定食」(やきにくていしょく)which is a name of a meal set, however the original well-known Yojijukugo is 「弱肉強食」

People over the history have created mojiri versions of literature and Yojijukugo and expressions, I think that is the origin of 駄洒落 (だじゃれ)is derived from Mojiri, which is often translated as ‘pun’, but it’s not really that simple.

Dajare 駄洒落

Japanese people like comedy a lot, you can clearly see that by the sheer amount of variety programs on national Japanese TV, and shows. Even in manga and other forms of media. They use puns as a main way to create jokes.

Dajare is a way to play with words, in Edo period Rakugo performers utilized this technique mostly to entertain people. Some of the well-known Dajare and probably even old by now is 「電話に誰もでんわ」 this is an easy one to show you how they choose words similar in sound but different in meaning to make parody or to joke. The principle is the same as with what I explained about Nise Monogatari, in that the general topic is frivolous and unimportant.

Kakekotoba 掛詞

However, not all play on words are just for laughs and parody, there is another kind of play on words, which Waka masters used in 「短歌」「俳句」 and is called「掛詞」(かけことば). It’s a technique to use words with the same sound and different meaning (Homonym)(同音異義語)and combine the two meanings of two words in just one word which is referred to as 「掛け合わせる」, let’s look at an example to understand this better:

Ono no Komachi
Ono no Komachi Tanka

「花の色は 移りにけりな いたづらに わが身世にふる ながめせしまに」(小野小町)

A life in vain. My looks, talents faded like these cherry blossoms paling in the endless rains that I gaze out upon, alone.

To describe this in modern Japanese:



「花」in the classics usually refers to「桜」meaning the color of cherry blossoms,
however, here it alludes to the beauty and elegance of women.


Here is the magical part that has a lot of puns (掛詞)combined beautifully. where「世」refers to「世代」and「男女の仲」. 「ふる」also refers to「降る(雨が降る)」and「経る(経過する)」to express the two meanings of 「ずっと降り続く雨」and「年をとっていく私」


There is more Kakekotoba here, 「眺め」refers to「物思い」and「長雨」, expressing again two meanings「物思いにふけっている間に」and「長雨がしている間に」

Only a master like Ono no Komachi can combine this number of 掛詞in one Tanka. I will not delve into explaining the whole piece, this is just to explain the different uses of ‘puns’ in waka, which as you see is not about parody.

When I wonder why puns are so well-established in Japanese culture, I can’t help but think that it has a lot to do with Japanese people’s innate ability to NOT speak English, so to speak. Kobayashi (as cited in Nakai, 2005) counted the number of sounds in Japanese as 108, 1700 fewer than in English, it is also argued that by the smallest unit to count sounds that represent definite meaning in a language ” a phoneme” Japanese has only 400, this is only about 1% of English phonemes count. This represents a lot more homonyms (Words with the same sound but with different meanings) in Japanese, for example the bunch line in the famous Rakugo performance 火焔太鼓(Kaendaiko):

A curio shop owner manages to sell an old drum to the feudal lord making a huge profit, then he tells his nagging wife 「音がするものだから良かった。次は景気よく火の見櫓の半鐘を仕入れよう」, 「半鐘はいけないよ、おジャンになるから」his wife tells him off.

In the Edo period they used to ring(半鐘)the fire bell twice representing that with the sound「ジャン、ジャン」this here is used as a pun with 「おじゃん」which means ‘to end without result,’ ‘to end in vain,’

This kind of sociocultural aspect of Japanese represents a challenge to its learners, but understanding its importance will widen your vision of how you go about studying such aspects, all of which will lead you to a higher level of proficiency. which is something I aspire to achieve every day.

I wish I could end this article with a joke or something, but if I were to take part in a comedy show I’m sure to be told「なに辛気臭い顔してんだよ!」and I can only answer「すいません」

I hope I managed to stimulate your thoughts about understanding Japanese today. I love to hear from you, so share your thoughts with me in the comments.




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