Japanese Proverbs: February 2010
It’s that time of month again! Here are all the proverbs I tweeted throughout February, along with readings, translations, explanations and other interesting notes. Enjoy! Follow me on twitter to keep up with the new ones. March might be the last month I do proverbs before switching to something else.
Reading: うんでいのさ (undei no sa)
Translation: “the separation between clouds and mud”
Meaning: A vast difference between two things.
Reading: けんえんのなか (ken’en no naka)
Translation: “the relationship of dogs and monkeys”
Meaning: A relationship of mutual hatred. Natural enemies.
Reading: なせばなる (naseba naru)
(Literal) Translation: “if you take action, it will become”
Meaning: You can do it if you try.
This proverb comes from a poem by Uesugi Youzan (上杉鷹山), from back in the Edo period. It’s pretty cool and being a Japanese poem isn’t so long, so here’s the full text.
nasaneba naranu nanigoto mo
naranu wa hito no nasanu nari keri
If you try, you may succeed.
If you don’t try, you will not succeed. This is true for of all things.
Not succeeding is the result of not trying.
Reading: せいてんのへきれき (seiten no hekireki)
Translation: A bolt (lit. thunder) out of the blue (sky).
Reading: かもがねぎをしょってくる (kamo ga negi o shotte kuru)
Translation: “a duck comes along carrying a leek on its back”
Meaning: A very convenient happening, a stroke of luck.
Explanation: The reason for this proverb is that duck soup is made with leek, so it’s as though the duck came along just asking you to eat it.
Note: This proverb has a short form for everyday usage, 鴨ネギ (kamonegi)
Reading: ぼうちゅうかんあり (bouchuu kan ari)
Meaning: Even when you’re very busy, there’s occasionally time to take a rest.
Reading: しょしんわするべからず (shoshin wasuru bekarazu)
Translation: We should not forget our beginner’s spirit. (the excitement/humility of starting something new)
Reading: しずむせあればうかぶせあり (shizumu se areba ukabu se ari)
Translation: “if the current sinks, it will rise (again)”
Meaning: Life has its ups and downs.
Reading: ねこのくびにすずをつける (neko no kubi ni suzu o tsukeru)
Translation: “to put a bell around a cat’s neck”
Meaning: To discuss doing something that is nearly impossible to do.
Note: This proverb has its origin in one of Aesop’s fables.
Reading: ちょうしょはたんしょ (chousho wa tansho)
Translation: “our strong points are our weak points”
Meaning: Over-reliance on our strengths leads to make careless mistakes.
Reading: おきてはんじょう、ねていちじょう (okite hanjou, nete ichijou)
Translation: “(man needs just) half a tatami mat when awake, one tatami mat when asleep.”
Meaning: You need not be rich to live a satisfied life.
Reading: りかにかんむりをたださず (rika ni kanmuri o tadasazu)
Translation: “don’t straighten your crown under the plum tree”
Meaning: Don’t invite undue suspicion on yourself.
Note: Because if you’re fiddling with your crown under the plum tree, people might think you’re trying to steal plums.
Reading: ねこをおうよりさらをひけ (neko o ou yori sara o hike)
Translation: “rather than chase the cat, take away the plate”
Meaning: Attack problems at their root.
Reading: いのなかのかわずたいかいをしらず (i no naka no kawazu, taikai o shirazu)
Translation: “the frog in the well knows not of the great ocean”
Explanation: This proverb is a metaphor for being mentally trapped by a narrow understanding of things.
Note: kawazu is the old way to say “frog”, in modern Japanese they are called kaeru
Reading: たげいはむげい (tagei wa mugei)
Translation: “many skills is no skill”
Meaning: a Jack of all trades is a master of none.
Reading: せいねんかさねてきたらず (seinen kasanete kitarazu)
Translation: “the prime of your life does not come twice”
Meaning: You’re only young once.
Reading: あいづちをうつ (aizuchi o utsu)
Translation: “striking the forge hammer”
Meaning: Giving verbal feedback while listening (eg. saying things like “yeah”, “uh-huh”, “I see”, etc)
Explanation: This proverb describes the rhythmic exchange of two smiths working on a katana.
Reading: てんはみずからたすくるものをたすく (ten wa mizukara tasukuru mono o tasuku)
Translation: Heaven helps those who help themselves.
Reading: もともこもない (moto mo ko mo nai)
Meaning: Failure not only to make a profit (子 = 利益), but losing your investment (元 = 元金) too.
Romaji: kore o shiru o kore o shiru to nashi, shirazaru o shirazu to nase. kore shiru nari.
Translation: To know that one knows what one knows, and to know that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, there lies true wisdom.
Note: Okay, so it’s not a proverb, it’s a Confucius (孔子／こうし） quote. But it was my 1000th tweet and I wanted to do something a little fancy.
Original Chinese: 知之为知之，不知为不知，是知也 (thanks, @Binglun!)
22. 窮鼠 猫を噛む
Reading: きゅうそねこをかむ (kyuuso neko o kamu)
Translation: “a cornered rat will bite the cat”
Meaning: Left with no choice, even a relatively weak person/animal will fight back.
Reading: ひさしをかしておもやをとられる (hisashi o kashite omoya o torareru)
Translation: “to lend the eaves and have the main house taken”
Meaning: Give an inch and they take a mile.
24. 悪銭 身につかず
Reading: あくせんみにつかず (akusen, mi ni tsukazu)
Translation: Dirty money doesn’t stay with a person for long.
Reading: ただよりたかいものはない (tada yori takai mono wa nai)
Translation: “nothing is more expensive than free”
Meaning: Debts of money are more easily repaid than those of gratitude
Reading: どくをもってどくをせいする (doku o motte doku o sei suru)
Translation: “to use a poison to overcome a poison”
Meaning: Sometimes we need shady means to tackle shady problems
Romaji: ken mo hororo
Translation: cackle and gobble [ken and hororo are pheasant sounds]
Meaning: Being blunt & unsympathetic (attitude, response, etc.)
Reading: なまびょうほうはおおけがのもと (namabyouhou wa ookega no moto)
Translation: Newly learned (unmastered) tactics are the origin of great blunders.