Dec
01
2009

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.

1. 可愛い子には旅をさせよ

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.

2. ローマは一日にしてならず

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.

3. 勝って兜の緒を締めよ

Kabuto (兜) : a Japanese helmet

Kabuto (兜) : a Japanese helmet

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.

4. 借りてきた猫

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.

5. 手前味噌

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.

6. 蓼食う虫も好き好き

Tade (蓼)

Tade (蓼)

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.

7. 鳴く猫はねずみを捕らぬ

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.

8. 一石二鳥

Reading: いっせきにちょう (isseki nichou)
Meaning/Translation: Killing two birds with one stone.

9. 鶴の一声

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.

10. とらぬ狸の皮算用

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.

11. 馬の耳に念仏

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.

12. 多々益々弁ず

Reading: たたますますべんず (tata masumasu benzu)
Meaning: The more the merrier.

13. 寄らば大樹の陰

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.

14. 七転び八起き

Reading: ななころびやおき (nana korobi ya oki)
Meaning/Translation: Stumble 7 times, get back up 8.

15. 年寄りの冷や水

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

16. 仏の顔も三度

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.

17. 論より証拠

Reading: ろんよりしょうこ (ron yori shouko)
Meaning/Translation: Proof over theory.

18. 縁側の下の力持ち

Engawa (縁側) : a long Japanese room or deck/porch that runs alongside a tatami room.

Engawa (縁側) : a long Japanese room or deck/porch that runs alongside a tatami room.

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.

19. 石橋をたたいて渡る

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.

20. 類は友を呼ぶ

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.

21. 箱入り娘

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.

22. 乞食を三日すればやめられぬ

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.

23. 御輿を上げる

Mikoshi (御輿/神輿) : A holy palanquin (portable shrine).

Mikoshi (御輿/神輿) : A holy palanquin (portable shrine).

Reading: みこしをあげる (mikoshi o ageru)
Translation: To raise the palanquin.
Meaning: To start working on something.

24. 溺れる者はわらをもつかむ

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.

25. 泥棒を捕らえて縄をなう

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)

26. 喉もと過ぎれば熱さを忘れる

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.

27. 焼け石に水

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. :-)

Posted under Language & Study by Nihonshock.

13 Responses


Share your thoughts

Name Your Message
Email Website * Gravatar ready.
*