Riddles in Japanese, nazo nazo なぞなぞ, are similar to riddles in English. Often, they are just a play on words. Despite the cultural differences, Japanese seems to take it to the next level with more double meanings and homophones. After spending time with them, I found that the children’s riddles are rather lovingly adorable. Here they are, with dialogue transcripts I had with a Japanese friend.
Try to solve these riddles first:
Translation: There was melon bread, curry bread, and white bread. One day, Melon bread said “Hello” to white bread and curry bread, but only white bread looked back (at Melon bread). How come?
Translation: What is a cake which calms you when you eat it?
First Riddle Transcript with Answer:
カイ：クイズみたいな問題があるよ。メロンパンと、カレーパンと、食パンがいました。ある日、メロンパンがカレーパンと食パンに「おはよう」と声をかけました。そしたら、食パンだけが振り向きました。なぜでしょうか？ Kai: I have a question like a riddle! There was melon bread, curry bread, and white bread. One day, Melon bread said "Hello" to white bread and curry bread, but only white bread looked back (at Melon bread). How come?友達：耳があるから。Friend: Because it has 'ears'.カイ：どうしてその答えって言ったの？Kai: How come you said that answer?友達：聞こえるってことは耳が必要ででしょ？食パンは普通パンの耳をもっている。Friend: Probably 'ears' are necessary to hear? White bread normally has 'bread ears'.カイ：食パンの形だから？Kai: Because of the shape of white bread?友達：茶色い外側の部分をパンの耳って言うんだよーーん。食パンのね。Friend: The brown outside part is called 'bread ears' (Bread crust).カイ：あ、そうか？食パンが耳っぽい形があるからと思うけど、パンの茶色い部分のやつだろう。Kai: Ah, really? Although I think it's because white bread has an ear-like shape, it's probably a thing of the bread's brown part.
This one was my favorite, and one of the best examples of double meanings that probably transcends culture. Despite that I didn’t know bread crust is literally translated as ‘ears of bread’ or ‘bread’s ears’ which is the answer, this riddle is also answerable based on the ear-like shape sliced loaf bread has. I think it’s quite cute. :P
Second Riddle Transcript with Answer:
カイ：これが好き（笑）。食べると安心するケーキって何でしょうか？Kai: I like this one (lol). What is a cake which calms you when you eat it?友達：ほっとするケーキ、ホットケーキ！Friend: A cake which calms you, hotcakes! (Pancakes!)カイ：あ、やさしすぎる...Kai: Ah, too easy...
Japanese uses some English words, called loan words, such as hotcake here. As an Australian, I’ve only ever heard of these referred to as pancakes. Because of this, I had to previously learn the answer rather than come to it as my own interpretation. I also learned another word from my friend which also means ‘calm’ or ‘relief’ – ほっと (hot-to). I found the contrast between being calmed down by something hot (which is often associated with anger) to be amusing, even if coincidental.
Although I enjoyed talking about more riddles with my friend (thank you!), they weren’t very English friendly. However, if you’d like to see more riddles in Japanese, you can try visiting sites such as:
Have any riddles you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!