Japanese Proverbs: November 2009
This is a collection of Japanese proverbs that I tweeted throughout November 2009. I missed a couple days when I was out with a hangover (sorry, I’ll be more responsible next time), that’s why there’s only 27.
Reading: かわいいこにはたびをさせよ (kawaii ko niwa tabi o saseyo)
Translation: Send the cute children on a journey.
Meaning: Instead of spoiling your cute children, you should make sure they experience some of life’s difficulties.
Reading: ろーまはいちにちにしてならず (ro-ma wa ichinichi ni shite narazu)
Meaning/Translation: Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Reading: かってかぶとのおをしめよ (katte kabuto no o o shimeyo)
Translation: After victory, tighten your helmet strap.
Meaning: Keep your guard up until the very end.
Reading: かりてきたねこ (karite kita neko)
Translation: A borrowed cat.
Meaning: This proverb refers to someone who is acting more well behaved than they usually are, from the belief that cats act more tamely when outside their typical home.
Reading: てまえみそ (temae miso)
Translation: The miso in front of you.
Meaning: Singing one’s own praises.
Explanation: This proverb envisions a person who is raving about the greatness of their own home-made miso.
Reading: たでくうむしもすきずき (tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki)
Translation: Some bugs gladly eat knotweed.
Meaning: To each is own. Everyone’s taste in things is different.
Explanation: Knotweed has an extremely spicy taste, but there are some insects that love to eat it anyway.
Reading: なくねこはねずみをとらぬ (naku neko wa nezumi o toranu)
Translation: A loud cat doesn’t catch mice.
Meaning: People who spend all their time talking accomplish nothing.
Reading: いっせきにちょう (isseki nichou)
Meaning/Translation: Killing two birds with one stone.
Reading: つるのひとこえ(tsuru no hitokoe)
Meaning: The crane’s word.
Translation: A decision by someone powerful that settles a difficult debate.
Reading: とらぬたぬきのかわざんよう (toranu tanuki no kawazanyou)
Translation: Calculating profits of uncaught fox skins.
Meaning: Counting your chickens before they’re hatched.
Reading: うまのみみにねんぶつ (uma no mimi ni nenbutsu)
Translation: A Buddhist recitation into a horse’s ear.
Meaning: This proverb refers to a person who shows no sign at all of listening to what someone is telling them.
Reading: たたますますべんず (tata masumasu benzu)
Meaning: The more the merrier.
Reading: よらばたいじゅのかげ (yoraba taiju no kage)
Translation: If you take shade, do it under a large tree.
Meaning: If you’re going to rely on someone, pick someone who can do what you need.
Reading: ななころびやおき (nana korobi ya oki)
Meaning/Translation: Stumble 7 times, get back up 8.
Reading: としよりのひやみず (toshiyori no hiyamizu)
Translation: An old person’s cold water.
Meaning: An old person acting recklessly for their age.
There are two rival explanations for the origin this Japanese proverb.
- The proverb envisions an old person showering their body with cold water. If an old person does this, it puts undue strain on their body which can cause them to start shaking uncontrollably or even lose consciousness. Hence the meaning: an action that is reckless for one’s (old) age.
- The proverb envisions an old person drinking cold water. In Edo times, the waters of the Sumidagawa river (which runs through Edo/Tokyo) were already heavily polluted with human refuse. Digging wells yielded mostly salt water. This made the sale of drinkable water a viable market. “Cold water” (冷や水) merchants would collect water from the middle of the Sumidagawa river for sale, claiming that the water from the middle was of good quality. While this may have sufficed for healthy, young folks, older people developed health problems from drinking 冷や水. In this way, “cold water” became a symbol for reckless behavior for older people.
The second explanation has a lot more going for it if you ask me, and the majority of Japanese pages I checked when researching this proverb seemed to side with this explanation as well. However, if a Japanese person has never researched the meaning specifically, they’re probably only familiar with the first explanation (if either).
Reading: ほとけのかおもさんど (hotoke no kao mo sando)
Translation: Even Buddah’s (tranquil) face only lasts until the third time.
Meaning: No matter how gentle someone may be, they will get angry if you pester them too much.
Reading: ろんよりしょうこ (ron yori shouko)
Meaning/Translation: Proof over theory.
Reading: えんがわのしたのちからもち (engawa no shita no chikaramochi)
Translation: A powerful person underneath the deck.
Meaning: Someone who is of great assistance, but stays behind the scenes.
Reading: いしばしをたたいてわたる (ishibashi o tataite wataru)
Translation: Tapping a stone bridge as you cross it.
Meaning: Safety on top of safety. Being extremely cautious.
Explanation: The reason one taps the bridge is to check for any weak spots as you cross it.
Reading: るいはともをよぶ (rui wa tomo o yobu)
Translation: Similar types call their friends.
Meaning: Birds of a feather flock together.
Reading: はこいりむすめ (hako iri musume)
Translation: A girl kept in a box.
Meaning: A girl raised very protectively by her family, without being given much freedom to go out with friends, etc.
Reading: こじきをみっかすればやめられぬ (kojiki o mikka sureba yamerarenu)
Translation: If you’re a beggar for 3 days, you won’t be able to stop.
Meaning: Once a good-for-nothing, always a good-for-nothing.
Note: I’ve seen this proverb translated as “once a beggar, always a beggar” but it doesn’t always have to refer to begging, so I’ve gone with “good-for-nothing” in my translation.
Reading: みこしをあげる (mikoshi o ageru)
Translation: To raise the palanquin.
Meaning: To start working on something.
Reading: おぼれるものはわらをもつかむ (oboreru mono wa wara o mo tsukamu)
Translation: A drowning person will grasp even at straws.
Meaning: A person in trouble will look for assistance even to things that clearly are of no help at all.
Reading: どろぼうをとらえてなわをなう (dorobou o toraete nawa o nau)
Translation: Weaving the rope after catching the burglar.
Meaning: Hastily finishing preparations for some trouble after it has already occurred.
Note: This proverb has a shortened form that you can use too: 泥縄 (doro nawa)
Reading: のどもとすぎればあつさをわすれる (nodo mo to sugireba atsusa o wasureru)
Translation: You forget the heat once it’s down your throat.
Meaning: After a hardship is over, no matter how rough it was when you were going through it, it’s like it never happened.
Reading: やけいしにみず (yakeishi ni mizu)
Translation: (Splashing) water on a burning rock.
Meaning: Small efforts don’t solve big problems.
Okay, that’s all for this month! If you haven’t yet, please follow me on twitter so you can keep up on the proverbs as I tweet them (a new one everyday). I won’t ramble too much, I promise.