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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.



直樹に曲がる枝
[なおきにまがるえだ, naoki ni magaru edu] a straight treee may have crooked branches (i.e.: an honest person may have dishonest children; an honest leader may have dishonest followers)

泣かぬ猫はねずみを取る
[なかぬねこはねずみをとる, nakanu neko wa nezumi o toru] the cat that does not cry catches mice

長い浮世に短い命
[ながいうきよにみじかいいのち, nagai ukiyo ni mijikai inochi] time is long but life is short (lit.: in this long transitory world life is short)

長生きすれば恥多し
[ながいきすればはじおおし, nagaiki sureba haji ooshi] to live long is to outlive much (lit.: if you live a long life, you will have much to be ashamed of)

流るる水は腐れぬ
[ながるるみずはくされぬ, nagaruru mizu wa kusarenu] running water does not become foul (i.e.: be nice in your home and working life and no one will suspect you of being an evil person)

流れを汲んで源を知る
[ながれをくんでみなもとをしる, nagare o kunde minamoto o shiru] a tree is known by its fruit; the source is important (lit.: by taking water from a stream we know its source)

泣面に蜂
[なきつらにはち, nakitsura ni hachi] to make matters worse; misfortunes seldom come singly (lit.: a wasp stining a crying face)

泣く子と地頭には勝たれぬ
[なくことじとうにはかたれぬ, naku ko to jitou niwa katarenu] you cannot win against a crying child or a local magistrate (i.e.: they will not listen to reason but insist on having their way no matter what)

情けに刃向かう刃なし
[なさけにはむかうやいばなし, nasake ni hamukau yaiba nashi] no blade can resist kindness

情けに向かう刃なし
[なさけにむかうやいばなし, nasake ni mukau yaiba nashi] no sword can oppose kindness; kindnes is the noblest weapon with which to conquer

情けを知るが誠の武士
[なさけをしるがまことのぶし, nasake o shiru ga makoto no bushi] he who knows kindness and compassion is a true warrior

情けを人のためならず
[なさけをひとのためならず, nasake o hito no tame narazu] the hand that gives gathers; kindnes is not just for the sake of others

鉈を貸して山を切られる
[なたをかしてやまをきられる, nata o kashite yama o kirareu] no good deed goes unpunished (lit.: to lend your hatchet and have your forest cut down)

夏の虫氷を知らず
[なつのむしこおりをしらず, natsu no mushi koori o shirazu] the summer insect knows not ice (i.e.: we each are aware of the world we personally live in, and not the world as a whole)

七転び八起き
[ななころびにやおき, nana-korobi ya-oki] life is full of ups and downs; the wheel of life keeps on turning (lit.: fall down seven times and get up eight times). This proverb emphasizes the need for perseverence and persistence in life.

七度尋ねて人を疑え
[ななたびたずねてひとをうたがえ, nana tabi tazunete hito o utagae] ask seven times then doubt a person (n.b.: the number seven is used to indicate many or a lot in Eastern cultures)

何事をするにも忍耐がなくて成功せぬ
[なにごとするにもにんたいがなくてせいこうせぬ, nanigoto o suru nimo nintai ga nakute seiko senu] in whatever you may do, you will not succeed unless you persevere

鍋釜売ってもいいかか取れ
[なべかまうってもいいかかとれ, nabe kama uttemo ii kaka tore] take a good wife even if you have to sell your pots and kettles (i.e.: a good wife is more important to the home than are good kitchen items)

怠け者の節句働き
[なまけもののせっくばたらき, namakemono no sekku-bataraki] the lazy become industrious toward evening (lit.: the lazy person will work during a festival; i.e.: a lazy person will make a big show of working when others are not working)

生兵法は大けがのもと
[なまびょうほうはおおけがのもと, nama-byouhou wa ookega no moto] a little knowledge is a dangerous thing (lit.: raw, basic, simple-minded military tactics can cause great injuries)

生酔い本性違わず
[なまよいほんしょうたがわず, nama-yoi wa honshou tagawazu] the half-drunk man remains true to his personality; wine shows the true character (i.e.: being drunk reveals a person's true nature, or in Latin: in vino veritas)

習い性となる
[ならいせいとなる, narai sei to naru] habit is second nature; practice makes perfect (lit.: practice becomes one's nature; you become what you do)

習うより慣れよ
[ならうよりなれよ, narau yori nareyo] practice makes perfect (lit.: better to become experienced than to be taught)

ならぬ堪忍するが堪忍
[ならぬかんにんするがかんにん, naranu kannin suru ga kannin] to endure what is cannot be endured is true endurance (i.e.: bearing what is unbearable is true forbearance)

名をとるより得をとれ
[なをとるよりとくをとれ, na o toru yori toku o tore] money first, fame last (lit.: rather than making a name for yourself, earn some profit; n.b.: this was the merchant class's view in pre-modern Japan, in contrast to that of the samurai)

汝にいずるものは汝にかえる
[なんじにいずるものはなんじにかえる, nanji ni izuru mono wa nanji ni kaeru] what comes forth from you will come back to you (i.e.: a wrong done to someone will come back to haunt the perpetrator)


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