Various ways to make words out of numbers

This is a sample lesson that comes from Phase Three, Unit 14. Click here to see the lesson on NativShark.

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The readings of numbers are commonly used to make mnemonics, send messages, and so on.

Try to figure out what is going on here, for example:

The phone number listed on a pediatric dentist's website.

0120ゼロいちにゼロ - 2525ニコニコ - 415よいこ
good child
Female Voice
Male Voice

0120 is the standard for a toll-free number, much like 1-800 in the US.

Then we have 2525, which technically should be にごにご, but the dental office instead wrote ニコニコ smilingly; with a big smile over the number.

Then there is 415, but instead of よんいちご, they write it as よいこ a good child, which with kanji would have been .

Native speakers are typically very good at manipulating number readings like this in order to make things more memorable or catchy.

Another example:

You're taking a history test. You answer what year the capital was relocated to Heian-kyo.

"A nightingale sings in Heian-kyō," so 794.
Japanese nightingale
Note: Most native speakers of Japanese are familiar with this specific mnemonic.
Female Voice
Male Voice

7 is sometimes read as なな, 9 is sometimes read as く, and 4 is sometimes read as よ. The speaker in the above sentence uses that to make the phrase 鳴くよ chirps; cries.


When I (Niko) first saw the mnemonic above, I was certain they were adding うぐいす平安京 to remember that this refers to 平安京 Heian-kyō; ancient Kyoto because the cry of the うぐいす Japanese bush warbler; Japanese nightingale is ホーホケキョ, which sounds similar (to me).

But apparently that's not the case, and it's just because the mnemonic as a whole has a nice ring to it. ショック。

What do you think is going on here:

You hashtag your Instagram post.

looking attractive
Female Voice
Male Voice

This common hashtag stems from the following readings:

8 → はち → は → ば
8 → エイト → エ

え means something like "looking good/attractive (in a photo)".


On social media, you'll also see things like 397 for サンキューな thank you and 3150 for さいこー the best; great; awesome.

I'm often shocked at how quickly Rei can make phrases like those shown above when she wants to remember a new set of numbers, much like the speaker in the sentence below does:

You witnessed a hit-and-run, so you memorize the license plate number of the car fleeing the scene.

Setagaya 029 SA 08-43
good morning
Female Voice
Male Voice


Vehicle registration plates in Japan are formatted like so:


The top line is the location of the government office issuing the plate, along with a number that classifies the type of vehicle (truck, car, etc.).

On the bottom line, the single kana and numbers identify the individual vehicle.

The plate and text color also differ depending on the type of vehicle (e.g. private vs commercial).

Maybe in time I'll get better at making number mnemonics too. がんばります!