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Comedic Fun with Japanese Hashtag Memes

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

In the weeks since Twitter introduced Japanese language capability for hashtags, the Japanese Twitterverse has taken to them like ducks to water.

Up until now, we've been using English hashtags in our Japanese tweets, which acted as unifiers or clickable search filters. Oftentimes, it did not particularly add context to that tweet beyond an event or campaign name.

Some are observing that Japanese hashtags have turned Twitter into an oasis for ohgiri, a style of wordplay that has its roots in the traditional comedic storytelling form of rakugo. Participants compete to give the wittiest response to a short theme.

Wordsmith Hideaki Matsunaga says [jp]:

人によってはタイムラインが日本語ハッシュタグ大喜利に埋め尽くされている場合もあるようだ。「#名作のタイトルに団地妻をつけるとロマンポルノになる」など、ついつい大喜利に参加したくなるネタが続出している。

Many people have seen their timelines fill up with ohgiri tweets. Themes that just beg to be answered are popping up everyday, such as “Add the word ‘apartment complex wife’ to any classic movie and it becomes a romantic porn movie”.

He goes on to give several explanations from a linguistic point of view, stating that the biggest reason could be that compared to alphabet tags, Japanese hashtags can easily be turned into sentences:

アルファベット文には半角スペースは欠かせないが、そこでハッシュタグは切れる。空白を除いたとしても、#followmejpや#londonriotのように二~三語の連結ぐらいが限界。あるいはアンダーバーを使って #where_we_come_from というような形にすることも可能は可能だが、冗長であるし字数も費やしてしまう。必然的に、文より単語のハッシュタグが増える。

一方、日本語は(わざわざ分かち書きをしない限り)空白を使わないので、句読点を除けばハッシュタグで文を表現できる。その結果、「#小説のタイトルの一部を残業に変えると悲しくなる」のような自然な日本語がハッシュタグで表現できる。

Spaces are required when using the alphabet but that will split the hashtag. You can connect words without a space, like #followmejp or #londonriot, but two or three words is the limit. You could use an underbar, such as #where_we_come_from”, but that’s redundant and limits the number of available characters. 

On the other hand, a Japanese hashtag can be a whole sentence. That means that a hashtag can be used to express something like “Replace a word in the title of any novel with the word ‘overtime’, and it becomes a sad story ” and it will be natural Japanese.

Ohgiri Event by Flickr user raccoflickr

Here are three memes that were Tokyo's Trending Topics for a day or two.

“You know you’re a designer when” (#デザイナーあるある)

There's been many an “aru aru” (you know when you're) meme, where people have fun commiserating together or trading common memories. At the end of July, graphic and web designers had their turn and shared their everyday grievances in a torrent of tweets.

@kamesaku
「ここは?」「目立たせたい」「ここは?」「もっと目立たせたいい」「ここは?」「目立つように」「ここはいいですよね」「目立つように」#デザイナーあるある

“Here?” “Oh, we want it to stand out.” “And here?” “We want that to stand out, too.” “How about here?” “That, too” “Not this, right?” “Must stand out.” #YouKnowYoureADesignerWhen

@1041DC
ダミーです。この文章はダミーです。ダミーです。この文章はダミーです。ダミーです。この文章はダミーです。ダミーです。この文章はダミーです。ダミーです。この文章はダミーです。ダミーです。この文章はダミーです。ダミーです。この文章はダミーです。ダミーです。この文章 #デザイナーあるある

This is a dummy sentence. This is a dummy sentence. This is a dummy sentence. This is a dummy sentence. This is a dummy sentence. This is a dummy sentence. This is a dummy sentence. This is a dummy sentence. #YouKnowYoureADesignerWhen

Tokugawa Ieyasu, first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate

“Common Tweets in the Edo Period (#江戸時代のTwitterにありがちなこと)

What would social media have been like during the Edo Period (1603–1868)?

Perhaps the men would have used Foursquare to check in at the red light district for coupons:

@ryu_po_po
I'm at 吉原遊郭 (江戸日本橋1-2-3)#江戸時代のtwitterにありがちなこと

I'm at the Yoshiwara Red Light District (1-2-3 Edo Nihonbashi)

Japan has had a hand in revamping records for Tweets Per Second for many excitable events, and since Edo (present day Tokyo) was repeated devastated by fires….

@Ein__Clown
また火事なう #江戸時代のtwitterにありがちなこと

ANOTHER fire.

One of the most popular tweets referred to the Incident at Honnō-ji, where Oda Nobunaga was forced to commit suicide by Akechi Mitsuhide. The event occurred much earlier than the Edo Period, not that it deterred the Tweeps!

@sakatandao
信長「本能寺なう!」光秀「敵は本能寺にあり!」 #江戸時代のtwitterにありがちなこと

Nobunaga: “I'm at Honnō-ji now!” Mitsuhide: “The enemy awaits at Honnō-ji!”

This one conjures up a conversation with Commodore Perry, coming to Japanese shores with his war ships to open the country.

@12chikasa22
本人からRT来たwwww RT @ペリー Hello :) RT やべぇwwww黒船来たwwww #江戸時代のtwitterにありがちなこと

It's a RT from Perry himself! RT @Perry Hello :) RT Oh no, I see the black ships!!!!!

Replace part of a movie title with the word ‘Udon’ and the setting of that movie becomes Kagawa” (#タイトルの一部をうどんにすると香川が舞台になる)

Udon noodles. Image by Flickr user alkuden (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Udon noodles. Image by Flickr user alkuden (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Kagawa Prefecture is well known for its udon (wheat noodles). Tweeps mixed up some local pride with pop culture references.

@highoh
ティファニーで、うどんを。 #タイトルの一部をうどんにすると香川が舞台になる

Udon at Tiffany's

@aegisL
アイ・アム・うどん#タイトルの一部をうどんにすると香川が舞台になる

I am Udon

@p_e_n_t_o_
ネヴァーエンディングうどん#タイトルの一部をうどんにすると香川が舞台になる

The Neverending Udon

@yamainutakumi
崖の上のうどん #タイトルの一部をうどんにすると香川が舞台になる

Udon on the Cliff by the Sea

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

  • Thanks for explaining how Japanese are using Twitter hashtags for word play!

    • You’re very welcome, glad you enjoyed the article.

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