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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.



薄氷を踏むが如し
[はくひょうをふむがごとし, hakuhyou o fumu gotoshi)] be fearful or undecided about what to do, to (lit.: like walking on thin ice)

始めあれば終わりあり
[はじめあればおわりあり, hajime areba owari ari] if there’s a beginning, there will be an end

初めの勝ちはくそ勝ち
[はじめのかちはくそがち, hajime no kachi wa kusu-gachi] the first victory is irrelevant (lit.: the first victory is a feces/shit victory)

始めは大事
[はじめはだいじ, hajime wa daiji] well begun is half done (lit.: the start is important)

八方美人は薄情
[はっぽうびじんははくじょう, happou bijin ha hakujou] one who pleases everybody is cold inside

鼻息を嗅ぐ
[はないきをかぐ, hanaiki o kagu] curry favor, to (lit.: smell another’s nasal breath)

花多ければ、実少なし
[はなおおければ、みすくなし, hana ookereba, mi sukunashi] much cry, little wool (lit.: where there are many flowers there is little fruit)

話半分に聞け
[はなしはんぶんにきけ, hanashi hanbun ni kike] listen to (and believe) only half of what you hear

花より団子
[はなよりだんご, hana yori dango] substance over show; bread is better than birdsong

歯の抜けた夢は不吉
[はのぬけたゆめはふきつ, ha no nuketa yume wa fukitsu] a dream in which a tooth falls out is a bad omen

速く熟すれば速く腐る
[はやくじゅくすればはやくくさる, hayaku jukusureba hayaku kusaru] fast ripe, fast rotton; quick come, quick go

流行ものは廃り者
[はやりものはすたりもの, hayari-mono wa sutari-mono] fashion comes and goes

腹八分目
[はらはちぶんめ, hara hachibun-me] Light suppers make for long lives. (N.b.: This phrase is sometimes attached to other phrases regarding health to create longer proverbs or maxims, much as "an apple a day" is in English. It literally means: belly/stomach eight-tenths full, suggesting that eating light is healthy)

針ほどのことを棒ほどに言う
[はりほどのことをぼうほどにいう, hari hodo no koto o bou hodo ni iu] exaggerate, to; make a mountain out of a molehill (lit.: to speak of a needle as if it were a staff)

馬鹿につける薬もない
[ばかにつけるくすりもない, baka ni tsukeru kusuri mo nai] there is no medicine for fools

馬鹿の後知恵
[ばかのあとじえ, baka no atojie] after-wit is everyone’s wit

馬鹿の一つ覚え
[ばかのひとつおぼえ, baka no hitotsu-oboe] a fool remembers only one thing

馬鹿は死ななきゃ直らない
[ばかはしななきゃなおらない, baka wa shinakya naoranai] the only cure for a fool is death; once a fool, always a food (lit.: unless a fool dies, he will not be cured)

馬鹿ほど怖い者はない
[ばかほどこわいものはない, baka hodo kowai mono wa nai] there is nothing more frightening than a fool

馬鹿もあればこそ、利口も引き立つ
[ばかもあればこそ、りこうもひきたつ, baka mo areba koso, rikou mo hikitatsu] there are no wise men without fools

馬鹿も一芸
[ばかもいちげい, baka mo ichigei] even a fool can do something (i.e.: everyone has a skill, a potential use, the possibility of contributing something)

馬耳東風
[ばじとうふう, baji toufuu] utter indifference; water on a duck’s back (lit.: the horse’s ear, east wind)

バタ臭い
[ばたくさい, bata-kusai] an alien smell (lit.: stinks of butter, esp. rancid butter as was the only form often avaialble before modern refrigeration)


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