hokkaido-names-top

Is your spirit more of a Sapporo beer or a Sapporo bear? Find out with these kanji from the north that stump even Japanese people.

We’ve seen before just how insane some place names in Japan can be. Quite often the kanji come together in strange and shocking ways, resulting in readings that make no sense except to the people that live there… and even then they’re usually the first to admit how difficult the readings are.

When we looked at place names before though, we didn’t go into enough detail on one of the biggest sources of difficult kanji names in Japan: Hokkaido, the northernmost island. One of the reasons it has so many difficult-to-read names is due to the native Ainu population, which had its own language before becoming a part of Japan.

The writers on the Japanese side of RocketNews24 put together a list of five levels of difficult Hokkaido names. See how many you can read correctly!

Let’s get to it with…

Level 5: You are a “Sapporo beer” – Everyone knows these

See if you can read these “easy” ones (scroll down for answers).

(1) 富良野
(2) 稚内
(3) 苫小牧
(4) 女満別
(5) 増毛

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(1) 富良野 – ふらの (furano)
Not too bad. If you know how to read these kanji from other compounds then you should be all set here.

(2) 稚内  – わっかない (wakkanai)
If you did your homework and read our previous article on hard-to-read places, then you’ll know this one!

(3) 苫小牧 – とまこまい (tomakomai)
Again, not too hard, so long as you already know how to read these kanji.

(4) 女満別  – めまんべつ (memanbetsu)
Me at the beginning is a little strange but nothing too out of the ordinary yet.

(5) 増毛 – ましけ (mashike)
Not too bad either, though the original Ainu name “Mashuke” apparently means “place with many seagulls,” which has absolutely nothing to do with the kanji meaning “more hair.” Thanks, kanji!

Level 4: You are a “Shiroi Koibito” chocolate – Most know these

Let’s crank up the Hokkaido cold a bit. See if you can read these “medium” ones (scroll down for answers).

(1) 勇払
(2) 野幌
(3) 比布
(4) 発寒
(5) 大麻

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(1) 勇払 – ゆうふつ (yuufutsu)
The first kanji is just a normal reading, but the second one is a little nonstandard.

(2) 野幌 – のっぽろ (nopporo)
Not too bad is you can already read the capital of Hokkaido which uses the same second kanji: 札幌 (sapporo).

(3) 比布 – ひっぷ (hippu)
That little “tsu” is a bit surprising but nothing too extreme.

(4) 発寒 – はっさむ  (hassamu)
Ah, combining the Chinese and Japanese readings of kanji together in one compound, the favorite pastime of many an impossible-to-read kanji compound.

(5) 大麻 – おおあさ (ooasa)
You may think this is taima, the word for “hemp” that uses the exact same two kanji, but nope! It’s a Hokkaido surprise!

Level 3: You are a dish of “Jingisukan” lamb – Some know these

Ooh boy, it’s starting to snow! See if you can read these “hard” ones (scroll down for answers).

(1) 弟子屈
(2) 足寄
(3) 積丹
(4) 占冠
(5) 音威子府

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(1) 弟子屈 – でしかが (deshikaga)
The first two kanji coming together as deshi (“pupil”) is standard, but that last one being kaga (“crouch”) would not be most people’s first guess.

(2) 足寄 – あしょろ (ashoro)
Ashi (“foot”) and yoru (“visit”) somehow come together in this bizarre fusion of sounds.

(3) 積丹 – しゃこたん (shakotan)
You might’ve gotten the tan (“rust/red”) part, but if you knew shako, then the Hokkaido spirits are strong with you.

(4) 占冠 – しむかっぷ (shimukappu)
Reading that second kanji (which means “cap/helmet”) as kappu has always made me chuckle.

(5) 音威子府 – おといねっぷ (otoineppu)
Apparently this originally meant “place where the river mouth is dirty,” a far cry from the… uh… “government office of noise power children” meaning that the kanji give us.

Level 2: You are William Smith Clark “Boys be ambitious!” – Few know these

Guys… guys, help. I’m covered in ten feet of snow. See if you can read these “very hard” ones (scroll down for answers).

(1) 知方学
(2) 神恵内
(3) 爾志
(4) 来止臥
(5) 生花苗

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(1) 知方学 – ちぽまない (chipomanai)
I don’t even know what to say about this one, but it originally meant “river where many fish gather at the mouth” in Ainu, so that’s kind of cool!

(2) 神恵内 – かもえない (kamoenai)
This one’s a real sucker punch because you might’ve gotten real close if you guessed kamienai, but nope, it’s kamoenai. Sorry!

(3) 爾志 – にし (nishi)
This one’s not too bad if you know how to read 爾, but then you’d have to know how to read 爾.

(4) 来止臥 – きとうし (kitoushi)
Ki makes sense, tou almost makes sense, and then shi at the end just comes out of the great Hokkaido wilderness.

(5) 生花苗 – おいかまない (oikamanai)
I’d just like to point out here that three names in this group end in nai, and none of them have even remotely the same kanji.

Level 1: You are an actual Hokkaido bear – No one knows these

*Inquisitive bear-stare intensifies* See if you can read these “impossible” ones (scroll down for answers).

(1) 重蘭窮
(2) 一已
(3) 負箙
(4) 分遣瀬
(5) 蕨岱

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(1) 重蘭窮 – ちぷらんけうし (chipurankeushi)
You know a place is going to be hard to read when it’s famous in Japan… for being hard to read.

(2) 一已 – いちゃん (ichan)
Hey, this has the kanji for ichi (“one”) in it! How hard could it be?
You’re right! Just read the second kanji as the random yan and combine it with ichi in a way you never see in the rest of Japanese, and yeah, it’s easy!

(3) 負箙 – おふいびら (ofuibira)
If you could read this because you know that second kanji ebira (“quiver of arrows”), then you deserve this one.

(4) 分遣瀬 – わかちゃらせ (wakacharase)
This one only has chara in its reading because the original Ainu meaning is “water flowing chara-chara (jingly).” Why they couldn’t pick kanji that are even in the realm of being pronounced chara is anyone’s guess.

(5) 蕨岱 – わらびたい (warabitai)
Again… if you knew either of these kanji, congratulations! You truly deserve to be a kanji-master Hokkaido bear.

So how did you do? Personally I got all of the “Sapporo beer” level ones and a few of the “Shiroi Koibito” ones, but then it all fell apart after that. Maybe I can level up by spending a few nights in a Hokkaido ice hotel?

Top image: PAKUTASO (edited by RocketNews24)
[ Read in Japanese ]