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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.



言い様聞き様
[いいようききよう, iiyou kikiyou] how you speak, how you hear (i.e.: pay attention to words and demeanor)

家の中に鳥入れば福きたる
[いえのなかにとりはいればふくきたる, ie no naka ni tori haireba fuku kitaru] a bird flying into the house brings good luck

息みは死に身
[いきみはしにみ, ikimi wa shi ni mi] to live is to die (lit.: a living body is a dying body)

行く者は追わず、来る者は拒まず
[いくものはおわず、きたるものはこばまず, iku mono wa owazu, kitaru mono wa kobamazu] do not chase those who leave, and do not refuse those who come (i.e.: don't waste effort going after those who are leaving while ignoring those who are arriving to be with you)

石地蔵に蜂
[いしじぞうにはち, ishi jizou ni hachi] a person insensible to pain (physical or emotional)

石で卵をつぶすよう
[いしでたまごをつぶすよう, ishi de tamago o tsubusu you] something easy (lit.: like smashing an egg with a rock)

石の上にも三年
[いしのうえにもさんねん, ishi no ue nimo sannen] sit patiently for three years even on a rock; perseverance brings success

石橋をたたいて渡る
[いしばしをたたいてわたる, ishibashi o tataite wataru] cross a stone bridge by tapping on it; be very cautious, to; be doubly cautious

医者と坊主は年寄りがいい
[いしゃとぼうずはとしよりがいい, ishi to bouzu ha toshiyori ga ii] physicians and Buddhists priests are better when old

医者の不養生
[いしゃのふようじょう, isha no fuyoujou] a physician is careless with his own health

医者もさじを投げる
[いしゃもさじをなげる, isha mo saji o nageru] a hopeless case (lit.: even the doctor throws away the spoon)

医者より養生
[いしゃよりようじょう, isha yori youjou] better than a physician is caring for your health

石を抱いて淵にいる
[いしをいだいてふちにいる, ishi o idaite fuchi ni iru] bring certain death, to (lit.: jump into a deep pool while holding a stone)

一か罰か
[いちかばつか, ichi ka batsu ka] sink or swim, all or nothing (from gamling, in which ichi means chance, and bachi means loss)

一事が万事
[いちじがばんじ, ichiji ga banji] one thing suggests all the rest (lit.: from one thing, ten thousand things)

一条の矢は折るべく、十条は折るべからず
[いちじょうのやはおるべく、じゅうじょうはおるべからず, ichijou no ya wa orubeku, juujou wa orubekarazu] in union there is strength (lit.: one arrow may break, but ten will not)

一難去ってまた一難
[いちなんさってまたいちなん, ichinan satte mata ichinan] one disaster after another; out of the frying pan and into the fire

一に看病、二に薬
[いちにかんびょう、ににくすり, ichi ni kanbyou, ni ni kusuri] nursing first, medicine second.

一病息災
[いちびょうそくさい/ichibyou sokusai] people with one illness will liver longer than those who are never ill (i.e.: one illness makes you more careful overall about your health, and so increases lifespan).

一養生、二薬
[いちようじょう、にくすり, ichi youjou, ni kusuri] first, care of one's health; second, medicine

一利一害
[いちりいちがい, ichiri ichigai] one benefit has one detriment; no garden without its weeds

一を聞いて十を知る
[いちをきいてじゅうをしる, ichi o kiite, juu o shiru] a word to the wise is sufficient (lit.: hearing one and knowing ten)

一を知って二を知らず
[いちをしってにをしらず, ichi o shitte ni o shirazu] know half the story, to (lit.: to know one but not two)

一強両得
[いっきょうりょうとく, ikkyou ryoutoku] a single stroke with a double benefit; kill two birds with one stone

一刻千金
[いっこくせんきん, ikkoku senkin] time is valuable (lit.: one instant, one thousand pieces of gold)

一石二鳥
[いっせきにちょう, isseki nichou] kill two birds with one stone, to (Lit.: one stone, two birds)

一滴千金
[いってきせんきん, itteki senkin] spend wildly, to; go on a spending spree, to; throw away money in one big fling

一点張り
[いってんばり, ittenbari] concentrating on something; persistence (lit.: one point stretching)

一刀両断
[いっとうりょうだん, itou ryoutan] take drastic action, to; cut the Gordian knot, to (lit.: cut into half with one sword stroke)

一方聞いてげじをたたず
[いっぽうきいてげじをたたず, ippou kiite geji o tatazu] give no orders after hearing only one side; get advice from all sides

井戸に座して天を見る
[いどにざしててんをみる, ido ni zashite ten o miru] have a limited outlook, to (lit.: look at the sky from the bottom of a well)

井戸の蛙大海を知らず
[いどのかわずたいかいをしらず, ido no kawazu taikai o shirazu] a fron in a well knows not the ocean
井戸端会議
[いどばたかいぎ, itobata kaigi] gossip around the well

犬にも豊年あり
[いぬにもほうねんあり, inu nimo hounen ari] every dog has his day (lit.: even a dog has a good year)

犬猫も三年飼えば恩を忘れず
[いぬねこもさんねんかえばおんをわすれず, inu neko mo sannen kaeba on o wasurezu] even a dog or cat does not forget its obligations if kept for three years

犬の川端歩き
[いぬのかわばたあるき, inu no kawabata aruki] an aimless stroll (lit.: a dog's riverside walk)

犬の歯に蚤
[いぬのはにのみ, inu no ha ni nomi] a flea between a dog's teeth (i.e.: small things can be difficult to catch, so be careful)

犬は三日飼えば恩を忘れず、猫は三年の恩を三日に忘れる
[いぬはみっかかえばおんをわすれず、ねこはさんねんのおんをみっかにわすれる, inu wa mikka kaeba on o wasurezu, neko wa sannen no on o mikka ni wasureru] keep a dog for three days and he will not forget your kindness, but a cat will forget in three days three years of kindness

犬骨折って鷹の餌食
[いぬほねおってたかのえじき, inu honeotte taka no ejiki] one person gets rewarded for another’s hard work; asses carry the oats and horses eat them (lit.: the dog works hard and hte hawk gets the food)

命の洗濯
[いのちのせんたく, inochi no sentaku] recreation, refreshment (lit.: laundering of life)

命は義によりて軽し
[いのちはぎによりてかるし, inochi wa gi ni yorite karushi] life is light when compared with honor; honor above everything

祈るより稼げ
[いのるよりかせげ, inoru yori kasege] toil rather than pray

今の一針、後と十針
[いまのひとはり、のちととうはり, ima no ichihari, nochi to touhari] a stich in time saves nine; early care saves wear (lit: better a stick now than ten later)

色の白いのは七難隠す
[いろのしろいのはしちなんかくす, iro no shiro no wa shichinan kakusu] a white complexion hides many defects

言わぬが花
[いわぬがはな, iwanu ga hana] better leave it unsaid (i.e.: silence is golden)

因果応報
[いんがおうほう, inga ouhou] poetic justice; as man sows, so shall he reap; retribution

因果覿面
[いんがてきめん, inga tekimen] immediate karma; swift is heaven's retribution

因果は回る車の輪
[いんがはめぐるくるまのわ, inga wa meguru kuruma no wa] the wheel of fortune is ever turning


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