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Japanese Proverbs





The Japanese language is filled with proverbs of all sorts, many from classical references from ancient Chinese to modern versions of English proverbs, all used in every aspect of the language. Whether you are traveling to Japan for fun or on business, or are living there, you'll find proverbs indispensible to understanding and using the daily language. Browse below to find the ones you want or simply explore the many possible ways to express yourself in Japanese.



合縁奇縁
[あいえんきえん, aien kien] shared bond, mysterious bond (lit.: shared/mutual fate/destiny/bond, strange/mysterious fate/destiny/bond. This phrase is a classical yojijukugo (a four-character idiom in the style of classical Chinese) used to refer to the mysteries of attraction and relationships between men and women; perhaps also between men and men, or women and women, though no such usage has been seen classically). 

挨拶は時の氏神
[あいさつはときのうじがみ, aisattsu wa toki no ujigami] arbitration during a quarrel is a gift from the gods (lit.: a greeting is a a local diety who turns up at the right time). Note that here the word 挨拶 is used to mean arbitration rather than its usual meaning of greeting. The word 氏神 refers to a local diety, usually of a town or village.

空いた口に牡丹餅
[あいたくちにぼたもち, aita kuchi ni botamochi] an unexpected windfall; a sudden gain (lit.: a bean-jam cake[falling] into an open mouth)

相手のない喧嘩はできぬ
[あいてのないけんかはできぬ, aite no nai kenka wa dekinu] you cannot have a fight alone; it takes two to tango (lit.: a fight without a partner cannot be had; i.e.: conflict requires other people, though perhaps this ignores internal conflict; Japanese culture places great emphasis on group harmony, so often an individual will walk away from a possilbe conflict, which is the embdiment of this proverb)

会うは別かりの始まり
[あうはわかりのはじまり, au nowa wakari no hajimari] to meet is the beginning of parting (n.b.: this sentiment expresses a Buddhist idea common in Japan about the transience of all things)

秋茄子は嫁に食わすな
[あきなすはよめのくわすな, akinasu wa yome ni kuwansuna] do not let your daughter-in-law eat autumn eggplants (n.b.: this refers to the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, a traditionally poor one, and that a mean mother-in-law would not share one with her dauhter-in-law)

悪因悪果
[あくいんあっか, akuin akka] you reap what you sow (lit.: bad causes bring bad results; n.b.: this is a Buddhist sentiment, one that emphasizes the idea of karmic retribution)

悪妻は六十年の不作
[あくさいはろくじゅうねんのふさく, akusai wa rokujuu-nen no fusaku] a bad wife is a shipwreck of the house; a bad wife is the ruin of her husband (lit.: a bad wife is a poor harvest for sixty years; note that this proverb is also used with 100 years as well)

悪事千里をはしる
[あくじせんりをはしる, akuji senri o hashiru] bad news travels fast; bad new has wings (lit.: bad new runs one thousand "ri" [about 2.44 miles], a traditional measure of distance in Japan)

朝起きは三文の得
[あさおきはさんもんのとく, asaoki wa sanmon no toku] early rising makes three mon of profit; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise

朝起きは七つの得あり
[あさおきはななつのとくあり, asaoki wa nanatsu no toku ari] the early bird catches the worm; early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise (lit.: early rising has seven advantages)

朝茶柱がたつと縁起がいい
[あさちゃばしらがたつとえんぎがいい, asacha-bashira ga tatsu to engi ga ii] a tea leaf floating upright in a cup in the morning means good fortune (an ancient Japanese superstition; recall that even today Japanese make tea using leaves, not tea bags, and that reading tea leaves is still a common practice among fortune tellers worldwide)

朝爪を切れば日に恥をかく
[あさつめをきればひにはじをかく, asa tsume o kireba hi ni haji o kaku] if you trim your nails in the morning, you will be put to shame that day (an ancient Japanese superstition )

朝の紅顔、夕べの白骨
[あさのこうがん、ゆうべのはっこつ, asa no kougan, yuube no hakkou] a rosy face in the morning, white bones in the evening; today red, tomorrow dead (this expresses the frailty of life)

明日のことをいうと天井の鼠が笑う
[あしたのことをいうとてんじょうのねずみがわらう, ashita no koto o iu to tenjou no nezumi ga warau] if you speak of tomorrow, the rats in the ceiling will laugh (i.e.: prediction is difficult, especially about the future, as Niels Bohr said)
明日は明日の風が吹く
[あしたはあしたのかぜがふく, ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku] tomorrow is a new day (lit.: on the morrow the winds of tomorrow will blow)

足の裏が痒いのはいい前兆
[あしのうらがかゆいのはいいぜんちょう, ashi no ura ga kayui no wa ii zenchou] an itch on the bottom of your foot is a good omen (an old Japanese superstition whose origins remain elusive)

明日は明日、今日は今日
[あすはあす、きょうはきょう, ashita wa ashita, kyo wa kyou] tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today (i.e.: focus on this day now, and think or worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes)

明日は雨、人は泥棒
[あすはあめ、ひとはどろぼう, asu wa ame, hito ha dorobou] tomorrow will see rain, and people are thieves (i.e.: be careful with people and things; they can be unpredictable)
遊び人暇なし
[あそびにんひまなし, asobi-nin ni hima nashi] pleasure seekers have no leisure (i.e.: their time is consumed by all their activities)

頭隠して尻隠さず
[あたまかくしてしりかくさず, atama kakushite shiri kakusazu] partly hide one's faults, to; make like an ostrich, to (lit.: hide the head but not the buttocks)

頭の大きい人は運がいい
[あたまのおおきいひとはうんがいい, atama no ookii hito wa un ga ii] destiny awaits a man with a big head; a person with a large head will have good fortunate (an ancient superstition in Japan, akin to European phrenology)

頭の休養、目の正月
[あたまのきゅうよう、めのしょうがつ, atama no kyuuyou, me no shougatsu] very interesting, intriguing, fascinating (lit.: a vacation for the head and New Year's celebration for the eyes)

当たるも八卦当たらぬも八卦
[あたるもはっけあたらぬもはっけ, ataru mo hakke, ataranu mo hakke] fortune telling is random (lit.: getting it right is fate, and getting it wrong is also fate; i.e.: the future is uncertain, and fortune telling will sometimes be right and often be wrong)

仇は恩で奉ぜよ
[あだはおんでほうぜよ, ada wa on de bouzyo] return good for evil (lit.: repay your enemy with a favor)

暑さ寒さも彼岸まで
[あつささむさもひがんまで, atsusa samusa mo higan made] both heat and cold last only until the equinox (n.b.: the equinox is the boundary between the warmer and colder halves of the year, so this proverb implies that summer heat, which can be stifling in Japan, and winter cold, which can be brutal, both will pass with time)

痘痕も笑窪
[あばたもえくぼ, abata mo ekubo] love is blind; pimples become dimples [when in love] (n.b.: the entire sayings goes 惚れてしまえば、痘痕も笑窪 [horete shimaeba, abata mo ekubo], meaning that when one is smitten, pockmarks or other defects become dimples or something else appealing)

危ない事は怪我のうち
[あぶないことはけがのうち, abunai koto wa kega no uchi] to knowingly flirt with danger invites injury (lit.: dangerous things are harm to oneself; i.e.: you have to take responsiblity for attempting something risky)

虻蜂取らず
[あぶはちとらず, abu hachi torazu] fail by being too eager, to; he that grasps too much holds fast nothing (lit.: catch neither the horsefly nor the wasp)

甘いものに蟻
[あまいものにあり, amai mono ni ari] what brings profits attracts people; you can attrack more flies with honey than with vinegar (lit.: ants go to sweet things; i.e.: you have to draw people in with something appealing)

余り物には福がある
[あまりものにはふくがある, amari mono ni fuku ga aru] one man's garbage is another man's treasure (lit.: leftovers can bring good fortune; i.e.: you never know what use something may eventually have)

阿弥陀の光も金次第
[あみだのひかりもかねしだい, amida no hikari mo kane shidai] no penny, no paternoster (lit.: the light of Amida Buddha is given in proportion to the gold offered by the supplicant)

網の魚
[あみのうお, ami no uo] a fish in a net (i.e.: a person who will be captured soon)

雨降って地固まる
[あめふってちかたまる, ame futte chi katamaru] the calm after the storm; strength through hardship; what does not kill you makes you stronger (lit.: after rain falls, the ground hardens; i.e.: difficulties and challenges can lead to greater strength than before they started)

争いには声高の者が勝つ
[あらそいにはこわだかのものがかつ, arasoi niwa takagoe ga katsu] in a quarrel the louder person wins (in other words, reason and right have nothing to do with winning an argument; shouting and screaming determine the victor)

あるはなきに勝る
[あるはなきにまさる, aru wa naku ni masaru] anything is better than nothing (lit.: to have[something] is better than nothing)

合わせもの、離れもの
[あわせもの、はなれもの, awase mono, hanare mono] what may be joined may be separated. (this is a Buddhist view of the world, commenting on the transience of all phenomena, including human relations)

案じるより生むはやすい
[あんじるよりうむはやすいむ, anjiru yori umu wa yasui] giving birth is easier than when planned; all things are difficult before they seem easy; the paralysis of analysis (lit.: bringing something forth is easier than planning it; i.e.: doing something often turns out to be easier than it seemed beforehand)


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