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Advanced Japanese Lesson: なし







What fruit is there, but not there?

The answer to this riddle is “nashi”, which means “a pear” or “nothing.”

In Japanese, there are homonyms which are words that sound the same, but have different meanings.  This riddle utilizes this characteristic.

Nashi, (“a pear” or “nothing”)  is one of many homonyms.  However, it was considered bad luck to call something that’s there as not there, therefore the fruit is often called arinomi,  which literally means “the fruit that is there.” (Note: ari means “to exist” and mi means “fruit.”)

In the same way, squid, which often accompanies a drink, that has been dried and then cut is called a surume.  For people doing business, they connect the sound of suru with the homonym for “to scrub off.” In the same way, the word to steal is also a homonym, (pickpockets are called suri)  therefore, surume can be replaced with atarime (atari means “hit” or “right”),  so that it has a better feel to it.

For the same reason, the suribachi used to smash and grate sesame seeds and potatoes can be called ataribachi.

Monks were called kaminaga, which means “long hair,” even though they didn’t have a single hair on their heads.  If you didn’t know this and somebody told you, “a long hair is coming” you’d be surprised to see a skinhead monk when you were expecting a long haired visitor.