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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.



身から出た錆
[みからでたさび, mi kara deta sabi] a fault of one’s own making; it’s all your own doing (lit.: rust that comes from oneself)

見ざる聞かざる言わざる
[みざるきかざるいわざる, mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru] not to see, hear, or say; see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

水掛け論
[みずかけろん, mizukakeron] an endless and fruitless discussion (lit.: a water-splashing discussion)

水清ければ魚住まず
[みずきよければうおすまず, mizu kiyokereba uo sumazu] fish do no live in clear water

水臭くする
[みずくさくする, mizu kusaku suru] be reserved, to (n.b.: describes a person lacking frankness, or who treats friends as strangers)

水の泡となった
[みずのあわとなった, mizu no awa to natta] it has come to naught, nothing

水の漏らさぬ仲だ
[みずのもらさぬなかだ, mizu no morasanu naka da] an incredibly close friendship or relationship

味噌の味噌臭いは上味噌にあらず
[みそのみそくさいはじょうみそにあらず, miso no misokusai wa joumizu ni arazu] the perfection of art is to conceal art (Latin: ars est ars celare)

味噌をつける
[みそをつける, miso o tsukeru] make a mess of things

三日坊主
[みっかぼうず, mikka bouzu] someone who tries something new or different intently for a brief period of time; giving up after only a little time or effort (lit.: a priest/monk for three days)

港口で難船
[みなとぐちでなんせん, minatoguchi de nansen] there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip (lit.: a shipwreck at the harbor entrance)

見ぬが花
[みぬがはな, minu ga hana] ignorance is bliss (lit.: not to see is a flower)

身のほどを知れ
[みのほどをしれ, mi no hodo o shire] know your limits

身は一代名は末代
[みはいちだいなはまつだい, mi wa ichidai, na wa matsudai] life is for one generation, a good name is forever

耳遠ければ命長し
[みみとおければいのちながし, mimi tookereba inochi nagashi] a deaf person lives long

見目より心
[みめよりこころ, mime yori kokoro] handsome is as handsome does (lit.: better a good heart than good looks)

都落ち(をする)
[みやこおち(をする), miyako-ochi] leave Tokyo (to live somewhere else)

深山の桜
[みやまのさくら, miyama no sakura] a hidden beauty (a beautiful woman few know about)

身を殺して仁をなす
[みをころしてじんをなす, mi o koroshite jin o nasu] sacrifice one’s life to do good, to; a candle lights others and consumes itself

身を捨ててこそ浮かぶ瀬もある
[みをすててこそうかぶせもある, mi o sutete koso ukabu se mo aru] he that loseth his life shall find it; nothing ventured, nothing gained (lit.: only when you throw yourself [into the water] shall you find shallows where you can float to safety)


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