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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.



李下の冠を正さず
[りかのかんむりをたださず, rika no kanmuri o tadasazu] do not behave suspiciously (lit.: do not adjust your tiara while under a peach tree) (i.e.: do nothing suspicious when you might be seen by others)

理屈と膏薬はどこへでもつく
[りくつとこうやくはどこへでもつく, rikutsu to kouyaku wa doko e demo tsuku] reason and adhesive plaster will stick anywhere

律義者の子沢山
[りちぎもののこだくさん, richigi mono no ko takusan] an upright, upstanding man has many children (that is to say that his behavior is rewarded with a large family)

累卵の如く危いし
[りゅいらんのごとくあやいし, ryuiran no gotoku ayaushi] in great peril; in imminent danger (lit.: as dangerous as a pyramid of eggs, which may fall at any moment)

竜車に向こう蟷螂の如し
[りゅうしゃにむこうとうろうのごとし, ryuusha ni mukou tourou no gotoshi] like a mantis attacking an Imperial carriage; like a fly trying to bite a tortoise (used to describe a person attacking or fighting an greatly superior enemy)

竜頭蛇尾
[りゅうとうだび, ryuutou dabi] an anticlimax; go up like a rocket and come down like a stick (lit.: a dragon’s head and a snake’s tail)

流馬の躓き
[りゅうめのつまづき, ryuume no tsumazuki] the best of us sometimes make mistakes (lit.: stumbling of a famous horse)

良医の門に病人多し
[りょういのもんにびょうにんおおし, ryoui no mon ni byounin ooshi] there are many seeking help from competent people (lit.: a good doctor has many ill people at his gate)

良工は材を選ばず
[りょうこうはざいをえらばず, ryoukou ha zai o erabazu] a skilled craftsman does not select (is not particular about) tools (i.e.: he will produce good results even with lower quality materials)

良酒は看板を要せず
[りょうしゅはかんばんをようせず, ryoushu wa kanban o yousezu] good wine needs no bush (lit.: good liquor needs no advertising)

良心のしわんに運用すること
[りょうしんのしわんにうんようすること, ryoushin no shiwan ni unyou suru koto] do something that your conscience disapproves of, to (lit.: employing your conscience in a stingy or miserly way)

良心は正義の居間なり
[りょうしんはせいぎのいまなり, ryoushin ni seigi no ima nari] conscience is the living room of righteousness

良心は徳義の番兵なり
[りょうしんはとくぎのばんぺいなり, ryoushin wa tokugi no banpei nari] conscience is the guardian of virtue and righteousness

両手に花
[りょうてにはな, ryoute ni hana] flowers in both hands (i.e.: a man having two lovers at the same time)

良馬は鞭影を見て行く
[りょうばはべんえいをみてゆく, ryouba wa benei o mite yuku] a good horse runs by watching the shadow of the whip (i.e.: the horse needs only the slightest instruction as to what to do)

良馬一鞭
[りょうばひとむち, ryouba hito-muchi] a word to the wise is sufficient; a smart person will know what to do even with very little instruction (lit.: a good horse, one (lash of the) whip)

両股はかけられぬ
[りょうまたはかけられぬ, ryoumata wa kakerarenu] you cannot run on two crotches; you cannot have your cake and eat it too

良薬は口に苦し
[りょうやくはくちににがし, ryouyaku kuchi ni nigashi] good medicine tastes bitter

両雄並び立たず
[りょうゆうならびたたず, ryouyuu narabi tatazu] two cocks in one yard do not agree; a great man cannot brook a rival (lit.: two great men cannot stand together)

悋気女に角が生える
[りんきおんなにつのがはえる, rinki onna ni tsuno ga ueru] a jealous woman will grow horns on her head (n.b.: this is the origin, at least in part, of Japanese brides wearing a white hood, called a "tsuno-kakushi" (horn hider) at their wedding ceremony)

悋気は恋の命
[りんきはこいのいのち, rinki wa koi no inochi] jealousy is the life of (sexual) love


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