Japanese proverbs include 四字熟語 (Yojijukugo Four-character idioms), 諺 = ことわざ (Kotowaza proverbs) and 慣用句 (Kanyouku Common idioms). Japanese love proverbs and use them in everyday life frequently.
Because traditional Japanese culture was tied to agriculture, many Japanese proverbs are derived from agricultural customs and practices. Many of them contain commentary on the behavior of women as well as natural phenomena. Some are from the game of Go and Buddhism . Many of the proverbs came from Chinese literature and philosophy, in particular the four-character ones, and exact equivalents or slight variations can often be found in Chinese and Korean. However, due to the separate development of Japanese and Chinese, some of their shared proverbs may take on different meanings.
- Transcription: Aisatsu wa tokino ujigami
- Literal translation: Greetings are the patron gods of our time.
- Transcription: Akinasu wa yome ni kuwasuna.
- Literal translation: Don't give your son's wife fall-harvest eggplant (akinasu) to eat.
- Background: Eggplants from the fall are tasty. If you let someone else, even your son's wife have a taste of them, he or she will take all home and you would be left without them.
- Transcription: Akusai wa hyaku-nen no fusaku.
- Literal translation: A bad wife is one hundred years of bad harvest.
- Background: Having a wife who never works would ruin not only yourself but your children as well, and even grandchildren.
- Transcription: Amarimono ni wa fuku ga aru.
- Literal translation: Fortunes exist among leftovers.
- Anzuru yori umu ga yasushi.
- Literal translation: It's easier to make it than thinking about it.
- 傍若無人 (Boujaku bujin) -- (lit. (To act) as if no one were beside you; i.e., boldly, without restraint), from 史記
- 着眼大局 (Chakugan taikyoku) -- (lit. Seeing and grasping the over-all stituation, from the game of Go . Comment: Go seems to be a rich source of proverbs that don't have direct equivalents in English. Does the author have more? If so, at least literal translations would help - The above refers to taking the global, strategic view. In Go (as in chess), the most important thing is to learn to master the strategic situation on the board as a whole, rather than lose oneself in details.
- 智恵出でて大偽あり (Chie idete taigi ari)
- 血も涙もない (Chi mo namida mo nai) -- (lit. He has neither blood nor tears)
- 長者にニ代なし (Choja-ni nidai nashi) (Lit. There is no second generation in the millionare) Without sufficient teaching, if you let your children inherit your money, they will blow it all.
- 知恵者一人馬鹿万人 (Chiesha hitori baka mannin) -- (lit. one wiseman and ten thousand idiots)
- 泥中の蓮 (Deichuu no hachisu) -- (lit. Beautiful lotus flowers are born from mud)
- 海老で鯛を釣る (Ebi de tai wo tsuru) -- (lit. Fishing a sea beam by shrimp)
- 江戸っ子は五月の鯉の吹き流し (Edokko wa gogatsu no koi no fukinagashi) -- (lit. Those born in Edo move from one place to another like a cloth streamer blown by May winds)
- 覆水盆にかえらず (Fukusui bon ni kaerazu) -- (lit. Spilled water from a cup will never return to the tray)
- 風前のともし火 (Fuuzen no tomoshibi) -- (lit. A candle blown by a strong gust of wind)
- 風樹の歎 (Fuuju no tan) -- (lit. A windblown tree's cry)
- 芸が身を助ける (Gei ga mi wo tasukeru) -- (lit. Your skills help you)
- 芸が身を助けるほどの不仕合せ (Gei ga mi wo tasukeru hodo no fushiawase) -- (lit. Being helped by the only artistic skill is shame)
- 下衆の後知恵 (Gesu no atojie) -- (lit. A lowly always think of right way after it's done)
- 義を見てせざるは勇無きなり (Gi wo mite sezaru ha yuu naki nari) -- (lit. To see a just cause and not to act is lacking in bravery)
- 肺肝を披く (Haikan wo hiraku) -- (lit. To expose one's lungs and liver; i.e., to make apparent one's true intentions )
- 肺肝を砕く (Haikan wo kudaku) -- (lit. )from 杜甫
- 八方塞がり (Happou fusagari) -- (lit. Eight directions are blocked) Eight directions are North, East, South, West and every directions in between. So it means completely surrounded and no way out. (This one is probably influenced by the game of Go, in which an individual piece can surrounded on 8 sides and thereby trapped.)
- 盲蛇に怖じず (Mekura hebi ni ojizu) -- (lit. ) from 世話尽
- へそで茶を沸かす (Heso de cha wo wakasu) -- (lit. Making tea on the navel)
- 日暮れて道遠し (Higurete michi tooshi) -- (lit. It's a long way after dark) from 史記
- 人の振り見て我が振りなおせ (Hito no furimite wagafuri naose) -- Instead of accusing others of bad manners, learn from it and behave yourself. (lit. Correct your own behavior by looking at others')
- 冷や飯を食わせる (Hiyameshi wo kuwaseru) -- (lit. Letting him eat cold meal)
- 臍を固める (Hozo wo katameru) -- (lit. )
- 言いたい事は明日言え (Iitai koto ha ashita ie) -- (lit. Say it tomorrow if you have something to say)
- 犬も歩けば棒に当たる (Inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru) -- things happen when you do something (lit. even walking dogs hit a bar)
- 入り鉄砲に出女 (Iri deppou ni deonna) -- (lit. guns enter and women leave)
- 医者の不養生 (Isha no fuyoujou) -- A doctor may be careless about his/her own health (lit. A doctor's carelessness about his/her own health)
- 石の上にも三年 (Ishi no ue nimo sannen) -- (lit. Sitting on a stone for three years)
- 一石二鳥 (Isseki nicho) -- conveniently or smartly achieving two goals by making just one move (lit. two birds with one stone) English: Killing two birds with one stone
- 言わぬが花 (Iwanu ga hana) -- When kept secret, people tend to imagine it is a very good thing (lit. not speaking is a flower) English equivalent: silence is golden.
- 地獄耳 (Jigoku mimi) -- Ability to catch rumor, gossip, or anything of his/her benefit, or the person who has that ability (lit. Hell ear)
- 壁に耳あり、障子に目あり (Kabe ni mimi ari, shoji ni me ari) -- one may not be fully aware of how closely one is being monitored by others (lit. the walls have ears, the doors have eyes) The English equivalent is just the walls have ears.
- 飼い犬に手をかまれる (Kaiinu ni te wo kamareru) -- (lit. Your own dog bites your hand)
- 金持ち喧嘩せず (Kanemochi kenka sezu) -- (lit. The rich don't fight)
- 堪忍袋の緒が切れる (Kanninbukuro no o ga kireru) -- (lit. )
- 河童の川流れ (Kappa no kawa nagare) -- Even professionals fail sometimes (lit. )
- 彼も人なりわれも人なり (Kare mo hito nari ware mo hito nari) -- (lit. He is a person and I am a person too)
- 風吹けば桶屋が儲かる (Kaze fukeba okeya ga moukaru) -- The world is interconnected even though it doesn't seem to be (lit. A bucket shop profits when wind blows)
- 風の中で育った木は根が強い (Kaze no naka de sodatta ki ha ne ga tsuyoi) -- (lit. The roots of a tree that grew up in the wind are strong)
- 風と女は閉じ込められない (Kaze to onna ha tojikome rarenai) -- (lit. You can't lock in wind or woman)
- 聞くは一時の恥 聞かぬは一生の恥 (Kiku ha ittoki no haji kikanu ha issh・no haji) -- (lit. Shame when you ask is less than when you didn't)
- 恋に師匠無し (Koi ni shishou nashi) -- (lit. There is no teacher for love)
- 国士無双 (Kokushi musou) -- (lit. No one else in the nation)
- 紺屋の白袴 (Konnya no shiro bakama) -- (lit. A white kimono of a dyeing house)
- 食うだけなら犬でも食う (Kuu dakenara inu demo kuu) -- (lit. Even dogs eat)
- まかぬ種は生えぬ (Makanu tane ha haenu) -- (lit. It doesn't bud if you don't seed)
- 枕を高くして寝る (Makura wo takakushite neru) -- (lit. sleeping with tall pillow)
- 待てば海路の日和有り (Mateba kairo no hiyori ari) -- (lit. Wait and sunny sea weather will be there)
- 芽が出る (Me ga deru) -- (lit. It buds)
- 明鏡も裏を照らさず (Meikyou mo ura wo terasazu) -- (lit. Even a clear mirror shows not its back)
- 名物に美味いものなし (Meibutsu ni umaimono nashi) -- (lit. No famous food is delicious)
- 明鏡止水 (Meikyou shisui) -- (lit. A clear mirror, still water) from 荘子
- 餅は餅屋 (Mochi ha mochiya) -- Let a professional do it (lit. For mochi, [go to] a mochi store)
- ミイラとりがミイラになる (Miiratori ga miira ni naru) -- (lit. A mummy hunter becomes a mummy)
- 三日坊主 (Mikka bouzu) -- A person getting bored in three days (lit. A three-day monk)
- 無理は三度 (Muri ha sando) -- (lit. impossible is three times)
- 水の泡となる (Mizuno awato naru) -- (lit. it becomes a bubble of water)
- 桃栗三年柿八年 (Momokuri sannen kaki hachinenn) -- (lit. You can harvest peaches and chestnuts in three years and persimmons in eight years)
- 物は試し (Monowa tameshi) -- give it a try (lit. things are to be tried) Just do it in English
- 門前市を成す (Monzen ichi wo nasu) -- (lit. )
- 求めよさらば与えられん (Motomeyo sareba ataeraren) -- (lit. Ask, and it shall be given you) from the New Testament
- 昔取った杵柄 (Mukashi totta kinezuka) -- Experiences from the past (lit. )
- 無い袖は振れぬ (Naisode ha furenu) -- You can't do anything with it if you don't have it (lit. A kimono without a sleeve can't be thrown around) from 世話尽
- 七転び八起き (Nanakorobi yaoki) -- (lit. You roll seven times and wake up eight times)
- ならぬ堪忍するが堪忍 (Naranu kannin suru ga kannin) -- (lit. Impossible things to be patient are things to be patient)
- 夏の雨は、馬の背を分ける (Natsu no ame ha, uma no se wo wakeru) -- (lit. Summer rain separates the top of horse)
- 猫も杓子も (Neko mo shakushi mo) -- Everybody (lit. Even a cat and a tong)
- 猫に小判 (Neko ni koban) -- It's not worth for him (lit. Gold coins for cats)
- 猫を被る (Neko wo kaburu) -- Remain cool and hide your true intent/personality. (lit. You wear a cat)
- 煮え湯に水を差す (Nieyu ni mizu wo sasu) -- To spoil something that's going well. (lit. Applying cold water to boiling water. Short: Mizu wo sasu)
- 能ある鷹は爪を隠す (Nou aru taka ha tsume wo kakusu) -- The act of not revealing one's talent. (lit. Talented hawks hide their nails. Short: Tsume wo kakusu)
- 糠に釘 (Nuka ni kugi) -- (lit. Sticking a nail in a ferment bed)
- 老い木に花 (Oiki ni hana) -- An old person behaving like young (lit. Flowers on a old tree)
- 女心と秋の空 (Onnagokoro to aki no sora) -- (lit. The heart of a woman in fall sky) A woman's heart is like the autumn sky (ever changing and not easily predicted).
- 押してもだめなら引いてみな (Oshitemo dame nara hiite mina) -- (lit. Pull if it does not work when you push)
- 男心と秋の空 (Otokogogoro to aki no sora) -- (lit. The mind of a man and the fall sky)
- 楽は苦の種 苦は楽の種 (Raku ha ku no tane ku ha raku no tane) -- (lit. )
- 礼も過ぎれば無礼 (Rei mo sugireba burei) -- (lit. More than polite is rude.)
- 李下に冠を正さず (Rika ni kanmuri wo tadasazu) -- (lit. Under a pear tree, never fix the hat)
- 老少不定 (Roushou fujou) -- (lit. ) From French
- 類は友を呼ぶ (Rui ha tomowo yobu) -- Like-minded tend to befriend with each other. (lit. Similarities call friends) from 易経 "Birds of a feather flock together," or perhaps, "Great minds think alike" in English.
- 瑠璃も玻璃も照らせば光る (Ruri mo hari mo teraseba hikaru) -- (lit. )
- 瑠璃も玻璃も照らせばかわる (Ruri mo hari mo teraseba wakaru) -- (lit. )
- 塞翁が馬 (Saiou ga uma) -- (lit. the Horse of Saiou) You never know if something's a good or bad omen. (From the Taoist parable: Saiou lost his horse, but it turned out that the horse went mating and brought a family of horse. Then Saiou's son rode on one of the new horses and fell off and broke his leg, and then a conscription order came for his son but his son was pardoned from duty because of the broken leg).
- 才子才に倒れる (Saishi sai ni taoreru) -- (lit. Talented person fails because of the talent)
- 策士、策におぼれる (Sakushi, sakushi ni oboreru) -- (lit. A strategist, falls for his tactic)
- 猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru) -- even experts make mistakes (lit. Even monkeys drop from a tree) (typically translated as Even Homer sometimes nods)
- 青雲の志 (Seiun no kokorozashi) -- (lit. ambitious of blue sky)
- 切磋琢磨 (Sessa takuma) -- (lit. cut, wash and polish)
- 四海波静か (Shikai nami shizuka) -- (lit. Four seas, waves are silent)
- 神出鬼没 (Shin shutsu ki botsu) -- unexpectedness of a person's behavior, indicating the person is clever (lit. to appear like a god and disappear like a phantom)
- 疾風に勁草を知る (Shippuu ni keisou wo shiru) -- (lit. )
- 袖すり合うも他生の縁 (Sode suriau mo tasyou no en) -- (lit. A brush of Kimono means they are in some way, destined)
- 滄海の一粟 (Soukai no ichizoku) -- (lit. )
- 水火も辞せず (Suika mo jisezu) -- (lit. Water and fire will not stop him)
- するのは失敗何もしないのは大失敗 (Suru noha shippai nanimo shinai noha daishippai) -- (lit. Doing is a mistake, not doing is a huge mistake)
- 旅の恥はかきすて (Tabi no haji ha kakisute) -- (lit. A humiliation in a trip can be thrown away)
- 大海の一滴 (Taikai no itteki) -- (lit. One drop in the big ocean)
- 他人は時の花 (Tanin ha tokino hana) -- (lit. Others are flower of time)
- 楽しみは憂いに生ず (Tanoshimi ha ureini shouzu)
- 立て板に水 (Tateita ni mizu) -- (lit. Water running on a vertical board)
- 手を拱く (Te wo komaneku) -- (lit. )
- 天長地久 (Tenchou chikyuu) -- (lit. The sky is wide, the earth is eternal) from 老子
- 亭主の好きな赤烏帽子 (Teishu no sukina akaeboshi)
- 唐人の寝言 (Toujin no negoto) -- incomprehensible words (lit. sleep talk of a Chinese)
- 燈台下暗し (Todai moto kurashi) -- Just like the base of a lighthouse is not lit, things happening near you are hard to notice. (lit. bottom of the lighthouse is dark)
- 年寄の冷水 (Toshiyori no hiyamizu) -- (lit. An old man's chilly water)
- 捕らぬ狸の皮算用 (Toranu tanuki no kawazan'you) -- Planning something based on the assumption that you will possess yet unobtained things. (lit. counting the skins of uncaught raccoon dogs ) -- (English: Don't count your chickens before they've hatched)
- 取り付く島も無い (Toritsuku shima mo nai) -- (lit. )
- 頭角を表す (Toukaku wo arawasu) -- (lit. Show the head) from 韓愈
- ついた餅より心持ち (Tsuita mochi yori kokoro mochi) -- (lit. A made mochi than how heart is)
- 月夜に釜を抜かれる (Tsukiya ni kama wo nukareru) -- (lit. )
- 爪の垢を煎じて飲む (Tsume no aka wo senjite nomu) -- (lit. Make a tea from dirt between fingernails)
- うどの大木 (Udo no taiboku) -- Just big man with nothing (lit. A huge udo tree) "All bark and no bite" or "all hat and no cattle" in English.
- 烏合の衆 (Ugou no shu) -- (lit. People like cloud of birds) the unwahsed masses, or an unruly mob in English, perhaps.
- 兎の角 (Usagi no tsuno) -- (lit. The horns of rabbits)
- ワインを損なう器は悪い器 (Wain wo sokonau utsuwa ha warui utsuwa) -- (lit. )
- アワビの貝の片想い (Warabi no kai no kataomoi) -- (lit. )
- 笑う門には福来る (Warau kado niha fuku kitaru) -- Laughter/smile brings happiness and fortune (lit. fortune comes to a street corner of someone smiling)
- わわしい女は夫を食う (Wawashii onna ha otto wo kuu) -- (lit. )
- 災い転じて福となす (Wazawai tenjite fuku to nasu) -- (lit. A disaster turns into a blessing)
- 薮から棒 (Yabu kara bou) -- (lit. A bar from bushes)
- 焼け石に水 (Yakeishi ni mizu) -- Your effort is too little to affect something (lit. Pouring water on hot stones)
- 焼き餅焼くとて手を焼くな (Yakimochi yakutote te wo yakuna) -- (lit. Toast mochi but don't toast your hand)
- 病膏肓に入る (Yamai koukou ni iru) -- (lit. )
- 柳の下にいつも泥鰌はおらぬ (Yanagi no shita ni itsumo dojou ha oranu) -- (lit. There are not always fish under a willow tree)
- 宵越しの金は持たぬ (Yoigoshi no kane ha motanu) -- (lit. Keep no money after midnight)
- 横槍を入れる (Yokoyari wo ireru) -- (lit. Poke with a spear from side)
- 唯我独尊 (Yuiga dokuson) -- (lit. I am only honored one)
- 前人の植えた樹 (Zennin no ueta ki) -- You benefit from predecessors' hardships (lit. Trees planed by predecessors)
- 自画自賛 (Jiga jisan) -- You praise yourself (lit. Praise one's own work, maybe shamelessly) Every potter praises his own pot in English
- 十人十色 (Jûnin toiro) -- Different people have different preferences (lit. Ten people, Ten colors) "Different strokes for different folks," or "one man's trash is another's treasure," or even "it takes all sorts to make a world" in English
- 朝の蜘蛛は福が来る、夜の蜘蛛は盗人が来る (Asa no kumo ha fuku ga kuru, yoru no kumo ha nusubito ga kuru) -- (lit. )
- 八細工七貧乏 (Hachi saiku shichi binbou) -- (lit. )
- 水は方円の器に随う (Mizu ha hou en no utsuwa ni shitagau) -- (lit. Water fills both square and round vessels)
- 本木(幹木)に勝るうら木無し (Motoki ni masaru uraki nashi) -- (lit. )
- 焼木杙に火がつく (Yake bokkui ni hi ga tsuku) -- (lit. )
- 犬も歩けば棒に当たる (Inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru)
- A dog going out will be beaten by a stick.
- 言わぬが花 (Iwanu ga hana)
- Silence is a flower.
- Better leave it unsaid. Silence is golden.
- 花より団子 (Hana yori dango)
- Dumplings over flowers.
- Pudding over praise.
- 早起きは三文の得 (Hayaoki ha sammon no toku)
- He who rises early earns three mon. (mon = premodern monetary unit)
- The early bird catches the worm.
- 負けるが勝ち(makeru ga kachi)
- Losing is winning.
- (Sometimes) the best gain is to lose.
- 薮をつついてヘビを出す (Yabo wo tsutsuite hebi wo dasu)
- Poke the bush, and a snake will come out.
- Let sleeping dogs lie.
See also: List of proverbs.
Last updated: 10-26-2005 03:52:15