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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.



逃がした魚は大きかった
[にがしたさかなはおおきかった, nigashita sakana wa ookikatta] the one that got away; the fish that got away (lit.: the fish that was lost was large)

憎い鷹に餌を飼え
[にくいたかにえさをかえ, nikui taka ni esa o kae] return good for evil (lit.: give food even to a hated hawk)

憎まれっ子世に憚る
[にくまれっこよにはばかる, nikumarekko yo ni habakaru] the world shuns a hated child (n.b.: but such children often grow up into people with strong personalities, for better or worse)

憎まれっ子世にはびこる
[にくまれっこよにはびこる, nikumarekko yo ni habikoru] a hated child will run wild through the world (n.b.: he may therefore be successful and live a long life, though often becoming arrogant in the process)

逃げるが勝
[にげるがかち, nigeru ga kachi] discretion is the better part of valor (lit.: to flee is to win)

逃げる者は道を選ばず
[にげるものはみちをえらばず, nigeru mono wa michi o erabazu] a fleeing person is not picky about his path

二足の草鞋は履けぬ
[にそくのわらじははけぬ, nisoku no waraji wa hakenu] you cannot do two things at once; a man cannot both ring hte bell [in the church] and walk in the [funeral] procession (lit.: a person cannot wear two pairs of straw sandals at the same time)

日光を見ぬうちは結構というな
[にっこうをみぬうちはけっこうというな, nikkou o minu uchi niwa kekkou to iu na] you aren’t “kekkou” (okay) until you’ve seen Nikko (a famous, beautiful shrine near Tokyo)

二兎を追う者は一兎をまえず
[にとをおうものはいっとをまえず, nito o ou mono wa itto o maezu] he who pursues two hares will catch neither; a donkey between two haystacks starves (lit.: he who chases after two hares will not catch either one)

二の足を踏む
[にのあしをふむ, ni no ashi o fumu] hestitate, to; balk

女房と靴は古いがいい
[にょうぼうとくつはふるいがいい, nyoubo to kutsu wa furui ga ii] wives and shoes are better when old (i.e.: they are more comfortable, familiar, and easy to get along with once they have been "broken in")

女房と畳は新しいがいい
[にょうぼうとたたみはあたらしいがいい, nyoubo to tatami wa atarashii ga ii] wives and tatami mats are better when new (i.e.: they are more attractive, appealing, and in some ways impressive; n.b.: contrast with the proverbs above and below this one)

女房と鍋釜は古いほどいい
[にょうぼうとなべかまはふるいほどいい, nyoubo to nabekama wa furui ga ii] wives and pots and kettles are better the older they are

女房は家の宝だ
[にょうぼうはいえのたからだ, nyoubou wa ie no takara da] a wife is a household treasure

如露亦如電
[にょろやくにょでん, nyoro yaku nyoden] like dew or lightning, gone in a flash

人間万事金の世の中
[にんげんばんじかねのよのなか, ningen banji no yo no naka] money makes the world go round (lit.: money commands people and all things in the world)

人情に国境なし
[にんじょうにこっきょうなし, ninjou ni kokkyo nashi] there are no boundaries to human kindness

忍耐は岩をも通す
[にんたいはいわをもとおす, nintai ha iwa o mo toosu] patience will pierce even a rock

忍耐は苦しされどその実は甘し
[にんたいはにがしされどそのみはあまし, nintai wa nigashisaredomo sono mi wa amashi] patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet


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