In the last episode of Azumanga Daioh, Yomi relates 3661 with samurai word. enter image description here

I know is a mnemonic technique to remember things, so things should be something like:

3 ~> sa ~> san
6 ~> mu ~> ??? (maybe shape of hiragana? む )
6 ~> ra ~> ...roku??
1 ~> i  ~> ichi

But I couldn't guess at all why relates 6 with both mu and ra. Any idea?

  • 2
    FYI, this mnemonic technique is called 語呂合わせ (goroawase). This one is really weird - I've never seen 6 read as "ra", and I'm not seeing any references on the internet to "3661" being read as "samurai", so I'm not sure what's up with this.
    – senshin
    Aug 25, 2013 at 0:01

3 Answers 3


Japanese speakers may remember numbers by taking the prominent syllable from how they read numbers (語呂合わせ goroawase). There are more than one way on how to count: one that descended from Old Japanese (大和言葉 Yamato kotoba) and one borrowed from Chinese (漢語 kango). In the order of Yamato / Kango:

  1. ひとつ hitotsu / いち ichi
  2. ふたつ futatsu / に ni
  3. みっつ mittsu / さん san
  4. よっつ yottsu / し shi
  5. いつつ itsutsu / ご go
  6. むっつ muttsu / ろく roku
  7. ななつ nanatsu / しち shichi
  8. やっつ yattsu / はち hachi
  9. ここのつ kokonotsu / きゅう kyū or く ku
  10. とお tō / じゅう jyū

and so forth. Therefore, a syllable that corresponds to 3 can be either み mi, さ sa, or ざ za (the last being the voiced variation of sa).

For 3661,

  • 3 = sa from san
  • 6 = mu from muttsu
  • 1 = i from ichi

The second 6 requires explanation. Notice that in the list above, "ra" does not appear. In fact, most of the syllables do not have a direct corresponding number, given that there are 48 basic syllables (plus 25 voiced variants and 21 digraphs). To force any given syllable into a number, people use various techniques.

  • Use English. つ tsu = 2, せ se = 7, え e = 8
  • Use modern Chinese. す su = 4 (written sì in pinyin but sounds like su), り ri = liù = 6
  • Swap vowels. This is what happened to the second 6 in 3661. Of all the syllables in the ra-line (ra, ri, ru, re, ro), only re (0 from rei) and ro (6 from roku) are defined. The Chinese technique also suggests 6 for ri. Therefore, 6 may be extended to ra and ru also. (The same thing happens in the ko/go-line where 5 fills in for ka/ga and ke/ge; and in the ma-line where 6 fills in for me and mo.)

An example of this extended list can be found at http://www2u.biglobe.ne.jp/~b-jack/kouza/s-3.html

With these techniques in play, people might remember the first 30 digits of pi as follows:

San ishi ikoku ni mukau. Sango yaku naku, 
3 . 1 4  15 9  2  6 5    3  5  8 9  7 9
Obstetrician goes to a foreign country. No misfortune after birth,

sanpu miyashiro ni. Mushi sanzan yami ni naku.
3  6  3 8 4  6  2   6 4   3  3   8 3  2  7 9
the new mother heads to a shrine. Insects chirp in the darkness severely.
  • I don't think the Chinese techniques really works, due to the divergence of the modern Chinese and on'yomi pronunciation refers to the original Chinese reading of kanji. Wu Chinese seems to have a strong connection with early kanji adopted by Japan (Around the Tang Dynasty). For example, the 人 kanji was taken from Wu Chinese, which pronounces 人 as {ɲɪɲ}, as opposed to Mandarin pronunciation, {ʐən˥}.
    – кяαzєя
    May 27, 2014 at 14:34
  • The verbal shifts that occurred in spoken is said to be primarily the result of successive waves of invasion from the north (most notably the Yuan dynasty). It's commonly accepted that Mandarin language underwent significant verbal changes as a result of the influx of northern people during this time, which displaced many populations which migrate towards the south of China. This is a possible explanation as to why, on'yomi pronunciations deviate widely and systematically from their modern Mandarin counterparts.
    – кяαzєя
    May 27, 2014 at 14:38
  • Whatever the case, the version of Chinese spoken in the eastern and central regions during the Tang dynasty (which is said when most of the character were adopted) more closely resembles modern-day Hakka, Min, and/or Cantonese dialects in terms of phoneme range.
    – кяαzєя
    May 27, 2014 at 14:50
  • That is precisely why the Chinese pronunciation works here. Chinese pronunciation (or its approximation), which deviates from Japanese pronunciation, comes in to fill the gap. The fact that Chinese pronunciation is different therefore helps, rather than prevents, this technique to be effective. Moreover, a rather well-defined pseudo-Chinese pronunciation exists among Mahjong players, which may be used as well. For instance, within Japan the 4 Circle tile is universally called "sū pin" and 9 Circle "chū pin". Notice the deviation from both the Japanese or Chinese pronunciations.
    – Asahiko
    Aug 19, 2014 at 19:36

The interpretation for the second 6 is probably a special case. The only reasoning that makes sense to me is:

  • ら is the 6th note in the Fixed Do key notation (C, D, E, F, G, A, B / Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti).

In hiragana, ら, also resembles the "5" or "6" number.

Please note that since it's a play on words, there're many ways to make the numbers work, just like trying to get certain words to fit in an acronym. E.g. C.I.A can mean "Central Intelligence Agency" or "Chinese Igloo Appraisers".

There is really no right or wrong way to do 語呂合わせ【ごろあわせ】 (basically a pun/play on words) with numbers.

Typically when doing word play with numbers 0-9, the following combinations are used:

  • 1: ichi, i, hitotsu, hito
  • 2: ni, futatsu, futa, fu, tsu ("two"), ji (kan'on reading)
  • 3: san, sa, mittsu, mitsu, mi
  • 4: yon, yo, yottsu, shi, fo ("four"), ho
  • 5: go, ko, i, itsutsu, itsu
  • 6: roku, ro, muttsu, mutsu, mu
  • 7: shichi, nanatsu, nana, na
  • 8: hachi, ha, paa, yattsu, yatsu, ya, yaa
  • 9: kyuu, kyu, ku, kokonotsu, kokono, ko
  • 0: rei, re, zero, nai, wa (based on shape of the kana, わ), ru (circle, also shape), oo (based on resemblance to the letter "O")

Six can be written as 六「む (mu), むう, ろく (roku)」 and 陸「おか, りく (riku)」.

So he could have mistaken "roku" or "riku" for "ra".

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