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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.



前へ二足、後ろへ三足
[まえへふたあし、うしろへみあし, mae e futaashi, ushiro e miashi] not an advance but a retreat (lit.: two steps forward, three steps back)

曲がらねば世が渡れぬ
[まがらねばよがわたれぬ, magaraneba yo ga watarenu] unless you are crooked, you cannot get along in the world

負ければ賊
[まければぞく, makereba zoku] the conquered are wrong; history goes to the victors (lit.: if defeated, you are a traitor)

馬子にも衣装
[まごにもいしょう, mago nimo ishou] the clothes make the man; anyone can look good if well-dressed (lit.: finery on a foal); note that many people mistake 'mago' here as meaning 'grandchild,' since the pronunciation is the same though the characters are different. The meaning may ultimately be about the same though.

まさかの時の友が真の友
[まさかのときのともがしんのとも , masaka no toki no tomo ga shin no tomo] a friend in need is a friend indeed (lit.: a friend in a time of an emergency is a true friend)

まず我が頭のはいを払え
[まずわがあたまのはいをはらえ, mazu wagaatama no hai o harae] mind your own business [Note: this expression can be taken as rude]

松の木に蝉
[まつのきにせみ, matsu no ki ni semi] an ill-matched couple (in height and build) (lit.: a cicada on a pine tree)

祭りより前の日
[まつりよりまえのひ, matsuri no mae no hi] great expectations; (happier on) the day before the festival

待てば海路の日和
[まてばかいろのひより, mateba kairo no hiyori] if you wait, good weather will come for your sea journey; all things come to him who waits

窓から槍
[まどからやり, mado kara yari] a sudden danger (lit.: a spear from the window)

丸い物に角蓋
[まるいものにかくぶた, marui mono ni kakubuta] a square peg in a round hole; a bad fit; ill-fitting; ill-suited (lit.: a square lid on top of a round object).

万病一薬
[まんびょういちやく, manbyou ichiyaku] a panacea, a universal remedy (lit.: one medicine for ten-thousand illnesses)


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