十八番, which can read either “おはこ, ohako” or “じゅうはちばん, jūhachiban”, is a standard Japanese word that usually indicates one’s adept skills. Although it can be used to describe any type of skills, it is particularly used to describe “your songs” that you believe you are very good at singing. For instance, you may ask you friends at karaoke, “What is your 十八番 (the songs you can sing very well)?”.
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Readings of 十八番
十八番 has two different readings and both of them are considered to be correct. One is the literal reading of the kanji characters, “じゅうはちばん jyūhachi ban”, and the other is an irregular one “おはこ ohako”. There are several hypotheses for the origin of the latter reading, one of which attributes it to the fact that 歌舞伎十八番 (kabuki plays from which this word originated; see the Word Origin section below) was usually kept in 箱 (hako), meaning “box” in English. In this case, “お” is interpreted as a prefix that adds politeness to the word.
The literal meaning of 十八番 is “number 18”. Its non-literal meaning is rooted in “歌舞伎十八番“, a collection of kabuki plays published in 1832 which listed 18 representative kabuki plays of the actors of the Ichikawa family (i.e. the plays that they were adept at playing).
I was a little annoyed because he/she sang my 十八番 (favourite song that I can sing well) before me at karaoke.
Impersonation is his 十八番 (adept skill; he is very good at impersonation)
Synonyms: お家芸 (see below), 強み (strength)
Synonyms in English: adept skill, forte
Related words and phrases: None