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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.



ローマは一日にしてならず
[ろーまはいちにちにしてならず, roma wa ichinichi ni shite narazu] Rome was not built in a day (lit.: Rome was not made in one day; n.b.: taken from the English version of this old proverb)

老少不定は世の習い
[ろうしょうふじょうはよのならい, roushou fujou wa yo no narai] uncertainty is the way of the world for young and old alike (i.e.: death can come to anyone at any age)

労せずしてに何物かを得ん
[ろうせずしてなにものかをえん, rou sezu shite nani mono o en] without working what can a person get? there is no such thing as a free lunch (i.e.: work is what everyone should do)

蝋燭は身を減らして人を照らす
[ろうそくはみをへらしてひとをてらす, rousoku wa mi o herashite hito o terasu] a candle lights others and consumes itself (i.e.: great men will devote themselves to helping others selflessly)

櫓櫂がのうて船で渡れぬ
[ろかいがのうてふねでわたれぬ, rokai ga noute fune de watarenu] without oars you cannot cross water in a boat (n.b.: "rokai" refers to two kinds of oars, hence all resources are needed to cross water)

櫓櫂の立たぬ海もなし
[ろかいのたたぬうみもなし, rokai no tatanu umi mo nashi] there is no sea in which oars are not put to use (n.b.: "rokai" refers to two different kinds of oars, hence all resources are needed when at sea)

六十の手習い
[ろくじゅうのてならい, rokujuuu no te-narai] it is never too late to learn; it is never to late to start (lit.: to study calligraphy at age sixty)

櫓三年竿七年
[ろさんねんさおしちねん, ro san-nen sao shichi-nen] three years to learn to manage an oar, seven years for the pole (i.e.: propellling a junk or other pole-driven boat takes time to learn to do)

論語読みの論語知らず
[ろんごよみのろんごしらず, rongo yomi no rongo shirazu] a learned fool; folly and learning often dwell together (lit.: one who reads the Analects of Confucius but has no understanding of them; n.b.: also a comment on the limits of rote memorization in true learning)

論より証拠
[ろんよりしょうこ, ron yori shouko] the proof of the pudding is in the eating (lit.: proof rather than argument; i.e.: theory and debate are interesting and even useful, but experience is what ultimately counts)


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