Gym leader shirt numbers in Pokemon Sword and Shield are all puns based on Japanese wordplay

Pokemon sword and Shield Gym
(Image credit: Nintendo)

An observant Pokemon Sword and Shield fan has shared an insight into the gym leaders in the game, noticing that their numbers are a reference to a type of Japanese wordplay. 

In a post shared to the Pokemon subreddit, one user shared an obscure Pokemon fact which details what the numbers assigned to each gym leader means. According to the post, the gym leaders' numbers aren’t random and are instead based on a form of Japanese wordplay known as Goroawase.  

obscure_pok%C3%A9mon_fact_day_256 from r/pokemon

To briefly explain, Goroawase translates to "phonetic matching" meaning it is the technique where a word - that is pronounced the same way as another word but differs in meaning - is assigned letters, numbers, or symbols so that they are now associated with a new meaning.

It can be a little confusing to understand at first but one example is the number four - which is pronounced as "shi" in Japanese - and the word for death which is pronounced the same. This means some Japanese natives are superstitious about the number four just like some people in the west are about the number 13. 

With this understanding in place, if you take the numbers assigned to gym leaders in Pokemon Sword and Shield (eg: Milo = 831, Nessa = 049, etc.) you end up with seemingly random words assigned to each gym leader. This means Milo’s number = "Vegetable", Nessa’s number = "Swim", Kabu’s number = "Sparks", and so on. If you’re already familiar with these notorious gym leaders, you’ve probably already noticed that the Goroawase meanings have a connection to the leader’s personality or Pokemon type. 

Looking for a new Pokemon game to play? Find out everything you need to know about Pokemon Legends: Arceus before it releases on January 28, 2022. 

Hope Bellingham
News Writer

After studying Film Studies and Creative Writing at university, I was lucky enough to land a job as an intern at Player Two PR where I helped to release a number of indie titles. I then got even luckier when I became a Trainee News Writer at GamesRadar+ before being promoted to a fully-fledged News Writer after a year and a half of training.  My expertise lies in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, cozy indies, and The Last of Us, but especially in the Kingdom Hearts series. I'm also known to write about the odd Korean drama for the Entertainment team every now and then.