You know how sometimes people get the lyrics wrong to songs, totally mixing it up for what they think they’re hearing? (For instance, “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” instead of “Hold me closer, tiny dancer”).
It gets even funnier when the language it’s sung in isn’t understood by the listener, causing them to start hearing things in their native language.
In Japanese this is called 空耳歌詞 （そらみみかし）, meaning “misheard lyrics”, or just 空耳 for short. The two characters making up the word are 空 (sky) and 耳 (ear)– the sky (空）can be thought of as empty, so your ears are hearing things that weren’t there.
Other words that use 空 with a similar concept are 空音 (そらね）meaning a “feigned cry”, or 空寝（also read そらね）meaning “feigned sleep”.
The Beatles – “I want to hold your hand”
Actual lyric: “I want to hold your hand“
Romaji: Aho na hōnyōhan
Japanese translation: “Idiotic public urination”
Metallica – “Through the never”
Actual lyric: “All that is, ever, ever was, will be ever, twisting, turning, through the never“
Soramimi: … 寿司、鳥、風呂、寝ろ
Romaji: … Sushi, tori, furo, nero
Japanese translation: Sushi, bird (or chicken), bath, go to sleep
Guns N’ Roses – “Mr. Brownstone”
Actual lyric: Shoulda know better, said I wish I never met her, said I’ll leave it all behind, Yowza!
Soramimi: … 兄貴の位牌, ヤクザ！
Romaji: … Aniki no ihai, Yakuza!
Japanese translation: Aniki’s gravestone, yakuza!
(Aniki, an honorable meaning “elder brother”, is a term used in the Yakuza to refer to an elder / mentor).
James Brown – “Gotta have a funky good time”
Actual lyric: “Gotta have a funky good time. I didn’t know you were singing, Fred!“
Soramimi: … 金ないよ １０００円くれ！
Romaji: … Kane nai yo sen-en kure!
Japanese translation: I don’t have any money give me a thousand yen!
Elvis Presley – “Bossa Nova Baby”
Actual lyric: “I said come on baby it’s hot in here, and it’s oh so cool outside“
Soramimi: … お酢ください
Romaji: … O-su kudasai
Japanese translation: Vinegar please
Michael Jackson – “Smooth Criminal”
Actual lyric: “As he came into the window it was the sound of a crescendo“
Soramimi: 朝からちょっと運動 表参道 赤信号
Romaji: … Asa kara chotto undou omotesandou akashingou
Japanese translation: Exercise since the morning, ometesandou, red traffic signal.
(表参道 or omotesandou is an avenue stretching from the entrance to the Meiji shrine, to Aoyama-dori).
Want even more? There’s a show called 空耳アワー (Soramimi Hour), a short segment that aired on Tamori Club, hosted by comedian Kazuyoshi “Tamori” Morita. Viewers would send in their favorite misheard lyrics, and the winners would receive prizes and have their submission acted out as a short skit.