Plays on Words in the Names of Dragon Ball Characters

For a comprehensive list of the articles I have written for foreign people living or traveling in Japan, see this article.


As a Japanese person, I could not be happier whenever content from the Japanese culture is appreciated overseas. One prominent example would be Dragon Ball. It’s known outside Japan primarily as an anime franchise, but it started out as comics (manga) series by Akira Toriyama.

I will let you in on a secret. Each character’s name in the franchise is often a play on words, but that’s lost in translation because it only makes sense to a Japanese speaker. When you know this backstory, you will enjoy the franchise even better. “Origins of character names” explains it well.

I will give you an example. During the original comic series’ run, this mysterious sword-wielding Sayan character called Trunks showed up out of nowhere — well, from the future, as it turned out. A friend of mine could instantly tell he was someone related to Bulma, and he was later proven correct. I totally did not see that, and I was amazed at his astute observation. He deduced this because he knew the character naming rule the author Akira Toriyama had set for himself.

In Japanese, we say “trunks” for boxer shorts. “Bulma” or “buruma” is supposed to mean bloomers, but the Japanese version seems quite different form the original; the Japanese “buruma”s are tight-fitting brief-style shorts for women. It was common in Japan in the past for school girls to wear them while exercising, but they disappeared in the early 90s because they were deemed too sexual. In this blog article, former Olympian Motoko Obayashi shows herself clad in typical exercise clothes (including a pair of buruma for girls) before the eventual demise of burumas.

“Trunks” and “Buruma” are both names for types of pants in Japanese. It was this fact that led my friend to predict — correctly — that characters Trunks and Bulma are related somehow.

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  1. ピンバック: The List of Articles I Have Written for Foreign People Living or Traveling in Japan | あくまで暫定措置としてのブログ

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