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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.



気が軽いと足も軽い
[きがかるいとあしもかるい, ki ga karui to ashi mo karui)] when the spirit is light, the feet are also light

聞くのは一時の恥、聞かぬのは一生の恥
[きくのはいちじのはじ、きかぬのはいっしょうのはじ, kiku no wa ichiji no haji, kikanu no wa isshou no haji] to ask is but a moment’s shame, but not to ask is a lifetime’s shame

起死回生
[きしかいせい, kishi kaisei] survive by the skin of one's teeth, to; make a miraculous recovery, to (lit.: almost death but recovered; n.b.: this refers to coming through a desperate situation and making a complete recovery)

木に餅がなる
[きにもちがなる, ki ni mochi ga naru] rice cakes grow on trees (a figure of speech for an unexpected and happy outcome)

昨日の花は今日の夢
[きのうのはなはきょうのゆめ, kinou no hana wa kyou no yume] yesterday’s flower is but a dream today; who today was a haughty knight is tomorrow a penniless wight

九死一生を得る
[きゅうしいっせいをえる, kyuushi issei o eru] have a narrow escape from the jaws of death

窮鼠猫を噛む
[きゅうそねこをかむ, kyuuso neko o kamu] a cornered rat will bite (lit.: a fearful rat wil bite a cat)

狂人走れば不狂人も走る
[きょうじんはしればふきょうじんもはしる, kyoujin hashireba fukyoujin mo hashiru] when a madman runs, sane people run

狂人人を走らす
[きょうじんひとをはしらす, kyoujin hito o hashirasu] a madman makes people run

共存共栄
[きょうそんきょうえい, kyouzonkyouei] existing together, thriving together, co-existence and co-prosperity

兄弟は他人の始まり
[きょうだいはたにんのはじまり, kyoudai wa tanin no hajimari] siblings are the forerunners of strangers

兄弟は両手の如し
[きょうだいはりょうてのごとし, kyoudai wa ryoute no gotoshi] brothers are like both hands (i.e.: they should help each other in good and bad times)

今日は人の身、明日は我が身
[きょうはひとのみ、あすはわがみ, kyou wa hito no mi, asu wa wagami] what is may turn today may be thine tomorrow

喬木風のねたまる
[きょうぼくかぜのねたまる, kyouboku kaze no netamaru] great trees are envied by the wind

金銭は他人
[きんせんはたにん, kinsen wa tanin] money makes strangers of us all

疑心暗鬼を生ず
[ぎしんあんきをしょうず, ぎしんあんきをしょうず] suspicion gives birth to bogies; (lit.: doubting mind, dark demons; a Buddhist expression referring to the need to keep the mind clear of doubts and suspicion, otherwise you will create more than actually exist)

漁夫の利をしめる
[ぎょふのりをしめる, gyofu no ri o shimeru] play one person off another, to (lit.: get a fisherman’s profit)


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