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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.



富貴には他人も集まり貧せんには親戚も離る
[ふうきにはたにんもあつまりひんせんにはしんせきもはなる, fuuki niwa tanin mo atsumari hinsen niwa shinseki mo hanaru] in times of prosperity, friends will be plenty, in times of adversity not one in twenty (lit.: when you have fame and fortune, even strangers visit; when poor and unknown, even relatives avoid you)

不義の富貴は浮雲の如し
[ふぎのふうきはふうんのごとし, fugi no fuuki wa fuun no gotoshi] ill-gotten gains are all too quickly lost (lit.: fame and fortune unjustly earned are like floating clouds [i..e: they dissipate quickly])

覆水盆に帰らず
[ふくすいぼんにかえらず, fukusuibon ni kaerazu] what is done is done; done cannot be undone; things may be repented but not recalled (lit.: spilt water does not return do its tray)

福は内、鬼は外
[ふくはうち、おにはそと, fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto] in with fortune, out with demons (said on the festival Setsubun)

二ついいことはない
[ふたついいことはない, futatsu ii koto wa nai] good fortunes seldom come together (lit.: there are no two good things)

淵を臨みて魚を羨むは退いてあみを結びにしかず
[ふちにのぞみてうおをうらやむはしりぞいてあみをむすびにしかず, fuchi o nozomite uo o urayamu ha shirizoite ami o musubi ni shikazu] prepare for success rather than dream of it (lit.: you should go home and make your net rather than just gaze longingly at a fish in a deep pool)

二日酔いには迎え酒
[ふつかよいにはむかえざけ, futsukayoi ni mukaezake] the hair of the dog (lit.: have another drink for a hangover)

筆には剣に勝る力あり
[ふでにはけんにまさるちからあり, fude niwa ken ni masaru chikara ari] the pen is mightier than the sword (lit.: the brush pen has greater power than a sword)

太く短く
[ふとくみじかく, futoku mijikaku] a short and reckless life (lit.: bold and short)

夫婦喧嘩と西風は夕方になるとやむ
[ふふうげんかとにしかぜはゆうかたになるとやむ, fufuugenka ni shikaze wa yuukata ni naru to yamu] fighting between husband and wife and the west wind both stop at night (i.e.: marital strife, quarrels between husband and wife, have a way of cooling off as evening starts)

夫婦喧嘩は犬も食わぬ
[ふふうげんかはいぬもくわぬ, fufuugenka wa inu mo kuwanu] dogs do not involve themselves in fights between husband and wife (lit.: even a dog will not bite at a quarrel between husband and wife; i.e.: though dogs are notoriously unselective about what they eat, they will not touch such a fight)

父母いませば遠く遊ばず
[ふぼいませばとおくあそばず, fubo imaseba tooku asobazu] do not travel far if your parents are still living (i.e.: this is a Confucian maxim that emphasizes the responsibility of children to their parents, particularly when old or infirmed)

踏まれた草にも花が咲く
[ふまれたくさにもはながさく, fumareta kusa nimo hana ga saku] flowers will bloom in even grass that has been stomped upon (i.e.: a downtrodden person may later rise to fame and fortune, so do not let current circumstances create pesssimism about the future)

古川に水絶えず
[ふるかわにみずたえず, furukawa ni mizu taezu] an old establishment never lacks for customers (lit.: there is never a lack of water in an old river; i.e.: old beliefs and traditions persist in a nation or society)

古きを尋ねて新しきを知る
[ふるきをたずねてあたらしきをしる, furuki o tazunete atarashiki o shiru] there is nothing new under the sun (lit.: we learn of new things by inquirinig into old things; this is a Confucian maxim which emphasizes the importance of mastering old knowledge as a means to uncovering new knowledge)

文は人なり
[ぶんはひとなり, bun wa hito nari] the style is the man (Japanese translation of the English proverb)

文は武より強し
[ぶんはぶよりつよし, bun wa bu yori tsuyoshi] the pen is mightier than the sword (lit.: literature is stronger than military arts)


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