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Tweet of the Week #55: A Sweet Tooth (Literally)

This customer had one seriously odd request for his local wagashi shop. Learn how to use なら thanks to this week's viral tweet!

By 3 min read

As the saying べる (“eat with your eyes”) goes, food presentation is considered to be very important in Japan. Japanese culinary tradition is built upon the idea that eating should be a full sensory experience. Apparently, this is backed up by several scientific studies that demonstrate how eye-pleasing meals can influence both the speed and amount that you eat.

The wonderful world of wagashi

Japanese traditional sweets, known as wagashi (和菓子わがし), are a perfect example of how Japanese food culture is about so much more than filling your stomach. Made from wheat, rice, beans, and sugar, wagashi come in all sorts of shapes and flavors—but are always absolute works of art.

After the Meiji era, Japan was quick to adopt western sweets and these days we’re probably more familiar with popular choices like Pocky, Koala’s March cookies and, of course, regional Kit Kats.

To keep up with the competition from mass producers, more and more wagashi shops are breaking with tradition and starting to get pretty creative. And sometimes, they can count on their clients for inspiration—however weird the request might be!

Sweet teeth?

First confused as hell during this phone call, this confectionary maker decided to make his client’s wish for a new wagashi product come true.


きゃく「 はをつくっていただきたいのですが… 」

わたしですか?いま季節きせつなら紅葉もみじ素敵すてきですよ。 」

客「 そっちのではないです…くちです。 」

私「 は・・・!? 」




= A previous phone call with a client

Client “I’d like you to make teeth please…”

Me “You mean leaf? In this season, red leaves are surely really exquisite.”

Client “Not that “ha”, I’m talking about teeth in a mouth.” 

Me “Ha… ?!”

Well, today’s November 8th which is “Good Teeth Day”

I’ve filled them with bean paste and will sell them until the end of the month. 

In a highly contextual culture that relies on implicit, non-verbal communication, Japanese homophones are far too common and even native speakers get confused once in a while. In this case, the customer requested  which can actually mean “tooth/teeth” or “leaf.”

November 8 is in fact “Good Teeth Day,” a faux holiday generated by teeth-whitening services and dentists to market their products. It comes from 1 (i) 1 (i), the 11th month, which makes “ii” (good) and the 8th day (hachi) to make “ha” (teeth.)

How to agree on context in Japanese

When you want to use a contextual conditional—basically saying something will happen given the right conditions—you can use the particle なら which translates to “if” or “in this case” “if that’s the case.”

なら uses the clause stating the conditions and is followed by the conditional results: 

  • なつ旅行りょこうなら沖縄おきなわがいいです = For a summer trip, Okinawa is good
  • くなら、私も行きます!= If you go, I’ll go!


べる me de taberu eat with your/one’s eyes
和菓子わがし wagashi Japanese traditional sweet
以前いぜん izen previously, before
客様きゃくさま o kyaku sama client
電話でんわ対応たいおう denwa taiou telephone support
つく tsukuru make
いただきたいのですが・・・ itadakitai no desu ga … would like…
わたし watashi I, me
ha leaf
いま ima now
季節きせつ kisetsu season
紅葉もみじ momiji red maple leaves
素敵すてき suteki splendid
なら nara if, in the case
くち kuchi mouth
ha teeth/tooth
ということで toiukoto de therefore
今日きょう kyou today
いい歯の ii ha no hi Good Teeth Day
なか naka inside
こしあん koshi an fine-grained sweet bean paste
今月末こんげつまつまで kon getsu matsu made until the end of this month
hanbai suru sell
なつ旅行りょこう natsu no ryokou summer trip
沖縄おきなわ okinawa Okinawa
iku go

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