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This content is modified from an article from the March 2020 issue of Makoto, a monthly magazine for beginning to intermediate learners of Japanese. 

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First, the word for telling a riddle:

(なぞ)かけ

telling a riddle

This is made of 謎 (riddle) and かけ (posing). We'll talk a bit more about かけ below, but first, let's talk about riddle formats.

In English, knock-knock jokes set up a question and answer situation.

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Says.

Says who?

Says me, that's who!

It's a set formula.

Some Japanese riddles also have set formulas.

Today's riddle takes two very different things and points out (a usually convoluted) connection between them. 


The Form

The なぞかけ form is as follows:

 Aとかけて、Bと()

Take A and (use it to) figure out (how it is related to) B

  • なぞかけ (posing a riddle) なぞ―riddle かけ―posing (a riddle) [probably shortened from といかける (to ask a question; to pose a question; to shoot a question)]
  • Aとかけて―posing question with A and ... [と (question marker) + かけて (te-form of かける (to pose); te-form conjunctive; “A” can be a word or a sentence]
  • Bと解く―answer as B [と as (quotation marker) + 解く (to answer; to solve)]



The Riddle

Now that we've studied the form, let's look at today’s riddle. 

(くさ)った(たまご)とかけまして、自業自得(じごうじとく)()きます。

その(こころ)は?

どちらも「きみ」が(わる)いでしょう。

I'll explain the riddle below, but for now, please try to work through the riddle and use the vocabulary and notes as needed.

About the Form & Vocabulary:

  • 腐った卵 rotten egg [past of 腐る (to rot; to go bad; to decay) + 卵 (egg)]
  • 自業自得 getting one's just deserts; suffering the consequences of one's own actions; reap what you sow [自 (oneself) 業 (work; business) + 自得 (being paid back for one's deeds)]
  • その心は?―what is the meaning? [その (that; the) + 心 (meaning) + は (topic marker; most likely it is shortened from その心は何でしょうか ? (What would be the meaning of the answer?); 心 usually means “heart”, but here it means “the true meaning of the answer” or “the true intention of the answer” which is hidden in one’s heart to be revealed.)]
  • どちらも both; either; they are all
  • 「きみ」が悪い [this can mean a few things depending on how you translate 「きみ」. This point is the heart of the joke. (See the hint below for the two meanings)]
  • でしょう isn't it; don't you think?

Here's a hint: 「きみ」 can mean:

  • “The yellow of an egg” たまご黄身きみ or
  • “you” きみ]


The Answer

Answer: The last line could be translated in three different ways:

1) The rotten egg: (くさ)った(たまご)

黄身(きみ)(わる)

The yellow part of an egg is bad

2) Reap what you sow: 自業自得(じごうじとく)

(きみ)(わる)

You are bad

3) And lastly, it could mean "both (rotten egg and getting one's just deserts) gives one the creeps."

気味(きみ)(わる)

Giving one the creeps.

This means "creepy (feeling); uneasy (feeling); bad (feeling); giving one the creeps; hideous; scaring; weird"


So, this riddle can be translated as "Take a rotten egg and figure out what it has to do with getting what one deserves."

The last 「きみ」 is key.

Is it "yellow part of an egg" or "you" or "give one the creeps" or could it be a little of all three?


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