Nihongo no Kokoro Part 118

Ohako

おはこ

What do you sing when you go to a karaoke? That one special number that you know you’re the best at singing is what we call “ohako.”

“Hako” on its own means a box. A highly valued piece of art or document, or artisan-made items like an exclusive tea set are all usually put securely inside a box, together with a certificate of authenticity, to show how valued they are. The use of the term “ohako” apparently stems from this and is now used to refer to a person’s specialty, such as a dish or a song.

What’s really interesting, though, is that the kanji for “ohako” is not written using the kanji for “hako (箱),” but the ones for “number eighteen (十八番, otherwise read as “juhachiban”)”. This was apparently due to a collection of programs published back in the Edo period performed by a famous Kabuki family, which shortlisted 18 of their most well-known plays.

Having talked about this, I’m now itching to go to the karaoke.

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