If you have ever been to the Marui department store in Shibuya, you may have wondered why there is a giant "0101" sign on top of it. The sign actually spells out the store's name using numbers: "maru" is one way to pronounce the number zero, and "i" is a common abbreviated form of "ichi," the Japanese word for the number one.

In Japanese there are numerous ways to pronounce various numbers, and thus the Japanese are fond of using numbers to remember names, and names to remember numbers. These mnemonics are called goroawase, and are used from everything to making jokes, to remembering telephone numbers, to creating silly nicknames.

Much like westerners do with the letters on telephone keypads, the Japanese turn their phone numbers into strange sentences, and companies sport numbers relevant to their business. Thus if a Japanese friend tells you that his telephone number is kusai 'yana yatsu ("smelly dislikable person"), you have no trouble remembering that his number is 931-8782. Similarly, Berlitz's toll-free number in Japan is "Go talk to me": (0120) 5-109-23, and a moving company might have a number like "Hayai, Hayai" (881-881) to emphasize how "fast, fast" it is.

The Japanese also use goroawase to turn ordinary dates into special days. Thus March 3rd (3/3) reminds the Japanese of "mimi," the Japanese word for ear, and schools emphasize ear care on that day. Similarly, June 4th can be pronounced "mushi" from "mu" (six) and "shi" (four); stick a "ba" on the end and you have mushiba yobo no hi, or "Cavity Prevention Day." Likewise, May 30th is "gomi zero no hi," and campaigns to reduce garbage ("gomi") are conducted on that day. So, if you see young men hitting on girls on July 8th, now you will know it's because it's nanpa no hi and of course, be careful if some one invites you to their house for dinner on July 10th, because it's natto no hi!

Sound like fun? Try it yourself! Here is a list of possible Japanese pronounciations for each number:

0 - zero, rei, re, o, maru, wa
1 - ichi, i, wan, hito, hi
2 - ni, tsu, fu
3 - san, mi, sa, mitsu
4 - yon, yo, shi
5 - go, ko, itsu
6 - roku, ro, mu
7 - nana, na, shichi
8 - hachi, ha, ya, wa
9 - ku, kyuu, gu, ko
10 - juu, to

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