The Art of Puns – with Shokupan Mimi!
Living in Japan, one sees some really inventive puns. Many are quite clever bilingual double puns on English words. And occasionally one even encounters a triple-pun.
Fun or clever puns on numbers are possibly the most common:
* In this previous post it was explained how Tokyo Sky Tree was designed to be 634 metres in height. The pun? “6-3-4” can be pronounced as “mu-sa-shi” in Japanese, and Musashi is the old name of the area in which the world’s tallest tower has been built. Cool.
* A very popular chain of cheap grocery shops in Japan is “QQ”, which is pronounced “kyu-kyu” which can also be written as “99” in Japan. The chain is famous as every product is priced at 99 yen.
* Many people in their emails and text messages will type the number 39, as it is pronounced “san-kyu” which sounds like the English “thank you”.
* November 11th is known as “Dog day” in Japan. Why “Dog day”? Well, November 11 can be written as 11/11 or “one one one one” which sounds like “wan wan wan wan”.
In England the sound made by a dog is “woof” and in America “arf”, but in Japan it’s “wan”. Hence 11/11 is dog day!
* Similarly 8/7 (or “ha-na”) is “Nose day” as the Japanese for “nose” is “hana”.
* Number puns are also regularly used in business. For example, the polite Japanese translation for “butcher” is “nikuya-san” or “ni-ku-ya-san”. This pronunciation also equates to “2-9-8-3” and historically a great number of butchers’ businesses chose 2983 as their phone number.
* “Strawberry” in Japanese is “ichigo” (“ichi-go” or “1-5”) and so naturally a number of strawberry-related characters and products use the number 15.
Enter a Beatle!
In advertising media, puns can be found everywhere.
Perhaps the most famous is an old TV advertisement for a popular apple juice drink featuring Ringo (yes, Ringo Starr from the Beatles):
To explain, the Japanese for apple is “ringo” and “sutta” (which sounds like “Starr”) means “grated/ground”. So in the ad we see a group of schoolgirls drink the grated apple juice and exclaim “Ringo sutta!”. Ringo, lingering nearby, responds with “Ringo Starr?” before being corrected by the girls. (incidentally, it’s said he was paid millions for this ad, simply for saying his own name – an incredibly lucrative example of personal branding!)
eat your vegetables!
Continuing along the theme of food, the Japanese for “eat” is “taberu”, which sounds rather like the Japanese pronunciation of the second half of the word “vegetable”, and so, quite ingeniously, a song was made to promote the eating of vegetables using the pun “vege-taberu”.
And like most Japanese songs, it’s incredibly catchy – including the obligatory key change for the final chorus!:
suteeki na sekai
Another example of food punning is in the old “suteeki na sekai” campaign from Lawson, the convenience store chain, which took advantage of the similarity between “suteki” (meaning “wonderful/beautiful/great/dreamy/superb”) and “suteeki” (meaning “steak”).
Hence their “Suteeki no sekai” phrase means both “a wonderful world” and “a steaky world”!
And of course…characters!
This brings us finally to the point of today’s post – a popular and incredibly cute kids’ character known as “Shokupan Mimi”.
Shokupan Mimi is a brilliant combination of both clever triple-pun and an almost unbeatable kawaii-factor.
To first explain, Shokupan is the name for regular bog-standard everyday white Japanese bread.
Of course, being Japanese, regular bread is not what one thinks of as a westerner. The texture is vaguely similar but enhanced – it’s softer, lighter, fluffier than anything found elsewhere.
But the main difference is in the form in which it’s sold. Firstly, a range of slice thicknesses are available, the most common of which is about 50% thicker than western “thick-sliced” bread.
Secondly, the bread is de-crusted. The ends of loaves are non-existent in shokupan. Every slice is reliably identical and perfect.
And lastly, it’s near to impossible to find a whole loaf. No, the vast majority of shokupan comes in packets of 8 slices (the maximum), 6 slices (the usual), 5, 4 and even 3 (yes, a ridiculous 3!) slices. Typical examples below include “double soft” and extra thick bread.
(click images to enlarge)
So… Shokupan Mimi – the cutest pun of all
“Mimi” means “ears” in Japanese, and is also the name given to the end pieces of crust of a loaf of bread. So “shokupan mimi” refers to the end bits of shokupan.
But of course Mimi is also a common western name/nickname.
Put all this together and what you have is a character which is made out of the end bits of a loaf of bread (“mimi”), has the name Mimi, and as part of an elegant triple-pun also has ears (“mimi”)!
Guaranteeing Mimi’s popularity is the fact that it’s incredibly cute and has a bunch of equally cute food-related friends!
For reasons I haven’t been able to gather, but with which I wholeheartedly agree, Mimi’s most popular friend is it’s sidekick Butter-chan, a little piece of butter who shares many adventures with Mimi – melting away and reforming, etc.
Shokupan Mimi, unlike Mameshiba, is primarily targeted towards children. The brand and merchandising encompasses printed material, videos, the obligatory phone straps, stickers, soft toys and a plethora of other products.
Shokupan Mimi videos
Here are the first 14 of a series of short animations:
Mimi is infiltrating everyday culture, as evidenced by the popularity of Mimi-themed food for kids’ lunchboxes:
(click images to enlarge)
Books are also available of course:
And the obligatory range of other merchandise: lunchboxes, cups, mousemats, phone straps, stickers, soft toys and earmuffs.
(click images to enlarge)
Shokupan Mimi links and freebies
Here’s the link to Shokupan Mimi’s official website packed with information about Mimi, Butter-chan and friends, plus downloads, a game and more.
A brilliant range of goods including mobile phone wallpapers and cute Mimi backpacks. Find it here.
This page teaches you how to make Mimi-shaped riceballs.
And here’s a nice desktop image featuring Mimi and Butter-chan (click to enlarge and download):