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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.



快活は健康に咲く花だ
[かいかつはけんこうにさくはなだ, kaikatsu ha kenko ni saku hana da] cheerfulness is the very flower of health

海賊が山賊の罪を挙げる
[かいぞくがさんぞくのつみをあげる, kaizoku ga sanzoku no tsumi o ageru] the pot calls the kettle black (lit.: pirates list the crimes of mountain bandits)

蛙の子は蛙
[かえるのこはかえる, kaeru no ko wa kaeru] like father, like son; the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree

蛙の面に水
[かえるのつらにみず, kaeru no tsura ni mizu] water on a duck’s back (lit.: water on a frog’s face)

顔が心の鏡
[かおがこころのかがみ, kao ga kokoro no kagami] the face is the mirror of the heart (so the average Japanese person keeps a calm face)

影弁慶
[かげべんけい, kagebenkei] a cock on his own dunghill (a shadow Benkei: a man who is despotic at home but ordinary otherwise)

数多ければ、安全なり
[かずおおければ、あんぜんなり, kazu ookereba, anzen nari] there is safety in numbers

風に向かってつばする
[かぜにむかってつばする, kaze ni mukatte tsuba suru] spit against the wind, to; who spits against the winds spits in his own face

風吹けども山は動かず
[かぜふけどもやまはうごかず, kaze fukedomo yama wa ugokazu] though the wind blos, the mountain does not move (this indicates someone who is calm in the face of chaos)

河童の川流れ
[かっぱのかわながれ, kappa no kawa-nagare] A kappa may drown in a river

勝てば官軍
[かてばかんぐん, kateba kangun] winners rule; history is written by the victors (lit.: if you win, you become the government army)

家内の喧嘩は貧乏の種まき
[かないのけんかはびんぼうのたねまき, kanai no kenka wa binbou no tanemaki_] poverty breeds strife (lit.: family fighting sow the seeds of poverty)

鼎の軽重を問う
[かなえのけいちょうをとう, kanae no keichou o tou] be weighted in the balance and be found wanting, to; have one’s ability or capacity questioned, to (lit.: to quesiton the relative weight of the tripod kettle)

金あれば、馬鹿もだんな
[かねあれば、ばかもだんな, kane areba, baka mo danna] money makes the man (lit.: even a fool is master if he has money)

金が敵
[かねがかたき, kane ga kataki] money is an enemy

金が金生む
[かねがかねうむ, kane ga kane umu] money gives birth to money, the rich get richer

金の切れ目が縁の切れ目
[かねのきれめがえんのきれめ, kane no kireme ga en no kireme] when poverty comes in at the door, love leaps out the window

金は火で試み、人は酒で試む
[かねはひでこころみ、ひとはさけでこころむ, kane wa hi de kokoromi, hito wa sake de kokoromu] metal is tested by fire, people by wine

金持ち苦労多し
[かねもちくろうおおし, kanemochi kurou ooshi] wealthy people have many worries; much coin, much care

禍福はあざなえる縄の如し
[かふくはあざなえるなわのごとし, kafuku wa azanaeru nawa no gotoshi] fortune and misfortune are like the twisted strands of a rope

壁に耳あり、障子に目あ
[かべにみみあり、しょうじにめあり, kabe ni mimi ari, shouji ni me ari] the walls have ears; someone is watching (lit.: the walls have ears and the paper screens [shouji] have eyes). This proverb emphasizes that you are never really alone in Japan and so have to be careful about what you say or do, lest someone see or hear of it.

果報は寝て待て
[かほうはねてまて, kahou wa nete mate] for good fortune, sleep and wait

神は見通し
[かみはみとおし, kami wa mitooshi] the eyes of the gods sleep not (lit.: the gods see through everything)

亀の甲より年の功
[かめのこうよりとしのこう, kame no kou yori toshi no kou] better than the tortoise shell is the benefits of age

烏が鳴くと凶事がある
[からすがなくときょうじがある, karasu ga naku to kyouji ga aru] crawing crows presage a calamity

枯木も山の賑わい
[かれきもやまのにぎわい, kareki mo yama no nigiwai] anything is better than nothing (lit.: a bare tree is a happy thing for a mountain)

夏炉冬扇
[かろとうせん,  karou tosen] mismatched; a fish out of water (lit.: a winter fan for summer heat; that is to say, something that is out of season or place and therefore useless)

可愛い子は棒で育てよ
[かわいいこはぼうでそだてよ, kawaii ko wa bou de sodateyo] spare the rod and spoil the child (lit.: raise your beloved child with a stick)

川に水を運べ
[かわにみずをはこべ, kawa ni mizu o hakobe] do something useless; carry coals to Newcastle, to (lit.: carry water to the river)

川向の火事
[かわむこうのかじ, kawamukou no kaji] indifference, irrelevant (lit.: a fire on the other side of the river)

瓦は磨いても玉のならぬ
[かわらはみがいてもたまのならぬ, kawara wa migaitemo tama no naranu] a tile, though polished, is not a jewel

変わりやすきは女の心
[かわりやすきはおんなのこころ, kawariyasuki wa onna no kokoro] woman is fickle

甘言を愚人を喜ばしむ
[かんげんをぐじんをよろこばしむ, kangen o gujin o yorokobashimu] sweet words will please fools; fair words please fools

勘定は勘定
[かんじょうはかんじょう, kanjou wa kanjou] business is business (lit.: accounts are accounts)

堪忍は一生の宝
[かんにんはいっしょうのたから, kannin wa isshou no takara] patience is a virtue

外面女菩薩、内面女やしゃ
[がいめんにょぼさつ、ないめんにょやしゃ, gaimen nyobosatsu, naimen yasha] all saint without, all devil within

餓鬼を人数
[がきをにんず, gaki o ninzu] even little imps when numerous are strong; strength in numbers

学問に近道なし
[がくもんにちかみちなし, gakumon ni chikamichi nashi] there are no shortcuts to learning

我田引水
[がでんいんすい, gaden insui] be selfish, to; do or say things in a way that benefits yourself [often to the detrminent of others], to (lit.: my rice field, drawing water)


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