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Wednesday
Jan182012

一斗二升五合

   Ask your Japanese friends to try reading 一斗二升五合 and most of them will be stumped. It is a riddle of sorts employing 斗, 升, 合 all of which are traditional Japanese measures of volume.

   一斗 (itto, about 18 liters) is equal to ten 升 (shô, about 1.8 liters). 一斗, then, can be said to equal五升の倍 (go shô no bai), which means “five shô doubled”. 五升の倍 (go shô no bai) is synonymous with 御商売 (go shôbai) which means “one’s business or trade”.

   Still with me?

  二升 (nishô). 升 can also be read masu. 二升 here is read “masu masu” which sounds like 益々 (masu masu), meaning “more and more”, “steadily”, and son on.

  五合 (go gô, 5 x 0.18 liters, or 0.9 liters) is one half of a shô or 半升 (hanjô) which sounds the same as 繁盛 (hanjô, prosperity). So, putting it all together 一斗二升五合 can be read “Go-shôbai masu masu hanjô!” (御商売益々繁盛), meaning something to the effect that your business or trade will enjoy increasing prosperity.

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