Japanese Proverbs: October 2009

Another month, another round of proverbs. For those of you who are following me on twitter you already know the drill: every day I select a new Japanese proverb to tweet for everyone’s learning pleasure. So if you like these, please be sure to follow me.

Starting this month I’ll be including the romaji readings for the proverbs alongside the katakana, but only here on the blog. Why? Well I want to encourage everyone to learn hiragana, and there’s also the 140 character limit issue with Twitter.

And if you’re wondering how 1 a day comes out to be 23 a month, it’s because I took a week off when my parents came to visit. Sorry!

Alright let’s get started!

1. 灯台下暗し

Reading: とうだいもとくらし (toudai moto kurashi)
Translation: There’s darkness beneath the lamppost.
Meaning: Sometimes the hardest things to notice are the ones closest to you.

2. 習うより慣れろ

Reading: ならうよりなれろ (narau yori narero)
Translation: Instead of learning, get used to doing.
Meaning: All the teachers in the world aren’t as good as experience.

3. 孝行のしたい時分に親はなし

Reading: こうこうのしたいじぶんにおやはなし (koukou no shitai jibun ni oya wa nashi)
Translation: By the time you feel like thanking your parents, they’re already gone.

4. 百聞は一見に如かず

Reading: ひゃくぶんはいっけんにしかず (hyakubun wa ikken ni shikazu)
Translation: Hearing about something one hundred times is not as good as seeing it once.

5. 右の耳から左の耳

Reading: みぎのみみからひだりのみみ (migi no mimi kara hidari no mimi)
Translation: From the right ear to the left.
Meaning: In one ear and out the other.

6. 雄弁は銀沈黙は金

Reading: ゆうべんはぎんちんもくはきん (yuuben wa gin chinmoku wa kin)
Translation: Eloquence is silver but silence is golden.

7. 大山鳴動して鼠一匹

Reading: たいざんめいどうしてねずみいっぴき (taizanmeidou shite nezumi ippiki)
Translation: The mountains rumbled but it was just one mouse.
Meaning: All hype and no substance.

8. 好きこそ物の上手なれ

Reading: すきこそもののじょうずなれ (suki koso mono no jouzu nare)
Translation: It is because we like things that we can become good at them.
Meaning: If we like something, we’ll improve at doing it naturally.

9. 命あっての物種

Reading: いのちあってのものだね (inochi atte no monodane)
Translation: Life is the root of all things.
Meaning: In order for anything to be possible, we must not die, so put survival before all other things.

10. 棚から牡丹餅

牡丹餅 (botamochi) : Japanese sweet bean cake

牡丹餅 (botamochi) : Japanese sweet bean cake

Reading: たなからぼたもち (tana kara botamochi)
Translation: A botamochi fallen from the top of the shelf.
Meaning: An unexpected and pleasant surprise.

11. 釣り落とした魚は大きい

Reading: つりおとしたさかなはおおきい (tsuriotoshita sakana wa ookii)
Translation: The fish that got away was big.
Meaning: Things that we almost got but didn’t always seem bigger/better (moreso than they really are) in retrospect.

12.  絵に描いた餅

Reading: えにかいたもち (e ni kaita mochi)
Translation: A rice cake drawn in a picture.
Meaning: Something may look good on paper, in reality is useless.

13. 三日坊主

坊主 (bouzu) : Shaved head hairstyle.

坊主 (bouzu) : Shaved head hairstyle.

Reading: みっかぼうず (mikka bouzu)
Translation: A 3-day monk.
Meaning: Someone who sets out to make a positive change to their life but gives up quickly.
Note: 坊主 (bouzu) is an interesting word, in addition to a Buddhist monk it can also refer more specifically to a monk-like shaved head hair style. In this proverb though it’s talking about being a monk.

14. 卿に入っては卿に従え

Reading: きょうにはいってはきょうにしたがえ(kyou ni haitte wa kyou ni shitagae)
Translation: When you enter the village, obey the village.
Meaning: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

15. 針の穴から天を覗く

Reading: はりのあなからてんをのぞく (hari no ana kara ten o nozoku)
Translation: Peeking at heaven through the eye of a needle.
Meaning: Making decisions even though you only grasp a small fraction of the factors involved.

16. 壁に耳あり障子に目あり

障子 (shouji) : Japanese sliding paper doors.

障子 (shouji) : Japanese sliding paper doors.

Reading: かべにみみありしょうじにめあり (kabe ni mimi ari shouji ni me ari)
Translation: There are ears on the walls and eyes in the doors.
Meaning: Even when you think you are in private, someone may have their ear against the wall or be looking into the room through a hole in the paper doors, so be careful what you say or do.

17. 柳に風

Reading: やなぎにかぜ (yanagi ni kaze)
Translation: Wind in the willows.
Meaning: Unaffected (unphased) by any difficulties that you have to face.

18. 虎の威を借る狐

Reading: とらのいをかるきつね (tora no i o karu kitsune)
Translation: A fox borrowing the power of a lion.
Meaning: Someone who, themselves powerless, puts on airs of power because they are associated with someone powerful.

19. 紺屋の白袴

袴 (hakama) : Japanese trousers

袴 (hakama) : Japanese trousers

Reading: こうやのしろばかま (kouya no shirobakama)
Translation: A dye shop worker with a white (= un-dyed)  hakama.
Meaning: Someone who is so busy attending to the needs and requests of others that they don’t have time to address their own.

20. 木を見て森を見ず

Reading: きをみてもりをみず (ki o mite mori o mizu)
Translation: Can’t see the forest through the trees.

21. 人の噂は七十五日

Reading: ひとのうわさはしちじゅうごにち (hito no uwasa wa shichijuugo nichi)
Translation: People’s rumors last for 75 days.
Meaning: Gossip fades with time, so don’t let what other people are saying get to you.

22. 柳の下のどじょう

A bowl of dojo loaches

A bowl of dojo loaches

Reading: やなぎのしたのどじょう (yanagi no shita no dojou)
Translation: A dojou loach found by chance under a willow tree.
Meaning: Just because you got lucky once doesn’t mean it will happen again.
Note: A dojo loach is an edible fish. I suppose finding one lying under a tree is supposed to be a lucky thing…

23. 猫に鰹節

Reading: ねこにかつおぶし (neko ni katsuobushi)
Translation: A dried fish snack and a cat.
Meaning: If you leave a cat’s favorite snack alone with a cat, it will get eaten. = Don’t trust people to keep watch over things of yours that they want.
Note: That wiggly stuff that comes on the top of okonomiyaki is made by shaving katsuobushi.

鰹節 (katsuobushi) : A dried fish snack

鰹節 (katsuobushi) : A dried fish snack

Posted under Language & Study by Nihonshock.

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