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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.



光陰人を待たず
[こういんひとをまたず, kouin hito o matazu] time waits for no man

光陰矢如し
[こういんやごとし, kouin ya gotoshi] time flies (like an arrow); tempus fugit

広告は商業の母なり
[こうこくはしょうぎょうのははなり, koukoku wa shougyou no haha nari] advertising is the mother of commerce

好事魔多し
[こうじまおおし, kouji ma ooshi] good luck invites many mishaps

甲の薬は乙の毒
[こうのくすりはおつのどく, kou no kusuri wa otsu no doku] one man’s medicine is another’s poison; one man’s meat is another’s poison

弘法筆を択ばず
[こうぼうふでをえらばず, Koukou fude o erabazu] a bad carpenter quarrels with his tools (Here, Koubou refers to the Buddhist monk, saint, author, and calligrapher, Koubou Daishi, also known as Kukai. He is considered one of Japan’s three greatest calligraphers in all of history)

弘法も筆の誤る
[こうぼうもふでのあやまる, Koubou mo fude no ayamari] everyone makes mistakes from time to time (Here, Koubou refers to the Buddhist monk, saint, author, and calligrapher, Koubou Daishi, also known as Kukai. He is considered one of Japan’s three greatest calligraphers in all of history)

紺屋のあさって
[こうやのあさって, konya no asatte] habitual delay, jam tomorrow and never jam today (lit.:the day after tomorrow for dyers)

虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず
[こけつにはいらずんばこじをえず, koketsu ni hairazunba koji o ezu] nothing ventured, nothing gained; no reward without risk (lit.: if you do not enter the tiger's cave, you cannot get its cubs)

心正しければこと正し
[こころただしければことただし, kokoro tadashikereba koto tadashi] if the heart is right the deeds will be right; a crooked stick will have a crooked shadow

心の鬼が身を責める
[こころのおにがみをせめる, kokoro no oni ga mi o semeru] pangs of conscience, a guilty conscience needs no accuser (lit.: the demon in one’s heart accuses)

心二つに身は一つ
[こころふたつにみはひとつ, kokoro futatsu ni mi wa hitotsu] you cannot be in two places at once
コップの嵐
[こっぷのあらし, koppu no arashi] much ado about nothing; a tempest in a teacup

言葉多いの品少なし
[ことばおおいのしなすくなし, kotoba ooi no shina sukunashi] many words indicate shallow character, empty vessels make the most noise (lit.: numerous words show scanty wares)

子に勝る宝なし
[こにまさるたからなし, ko ni masaru takara nashi] there is no greater treasure than a child

子故の闇
[こゆえのやみ, ko yue no yami] darkness because of (love for) the child

転ばぬ先の杖
[ころばぬさきのつえ, korobanu saki no tsue] taking all necessary precautions (lit.: a walking stick before you fall)

怖いもの見たさ
[こわいものみたさ, kowaimono mitasa] one must see what one dreads

怖し見たし
[こわしみたし, kowashi mitashi] forbidden fruit is sweet (lit.: to see what is fearful)

子を見ること親にしかず
[こをみることおやにしかず, ko o miru koto oya shikazu] parents best see their children

困苦に勝る教育なし
[こんくにまさるきょういくなし, konku ni masaru kyouiku nashi] there is no education better than privations

困難は徳の基
[こんなんはとくのもとい, konnan wa toku no motoi] adversity is the foundation of virtue

呉越同舟
[ごえつどうしゅう, goetsu doushu] bitter enemies in the same boat (n.b.: Go and Etsu were two warlords in ancient China who, according to legend, found themselves in the same boat and were forced to cooperate to survive)

五十歩をもって百歩を笑おう
[ごじっぽをもってひゃっぽをわらおう, gojippo o motte hyapo o waraou] the pot calling the kettle black; six of one and a half dozen of the other (lit.: run fifty steps and laugh at one who runs one-hundred)

五十歩百歩
[ごじゅっぽひゃっぽ, gojuppo hyappo] a miss is as good as a mile (this is a shortened version of the proverb above)

郷に入って郷に従う
[ごにはいってごにしたがう, go ni haitte go ni shitagau] when in Rome, do as the Romans do (Literally: when in a home country, follow the customs of that country. Rome, of course, was not known to Japan in classical times.)


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