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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.



仕事は道具にあり
[しごとはどうぐにあり, shigoto wa dougu ni ari] work depends on tools

四十の馬鹿は始終の馬鹿
[しじゅうのばかはしじゅうのばか, shijuu no baka wa shijuu no baka] a fool at forty is a fool forever (a nice pun with two ways of writing shijuu is found here)

四十の馬鹿は本当の馬鹿
[しじゅうのばかはほんとうのばか, shijuu no baka wa hontou no baka] a fool at forty is a true fool

下には下がある
[したにはしたがある, shita inwa shita ga aru] inferiors have others below them

舌の長いは泥簿
[したのながいはどろぼ, shita no nagai wa dorobou] a long-tongued person is a thief

失敗は成功の基なり
[しっぱいはせいこうのもといなり, shippai wa seikou no motoi nari] failure is the foundation for success

死人に口なし
[しにんにくちなし, shinin ni kuchi nashi] dead men tel no tales (lit.: a dead person has no mouth)

死ねば全て帳消し
[しねばすべてちょうけし, shineba subete chou-keshi] death quits all scores (lit.: on death all accounts are canceled)

死はやすく、生は難し
[しはやすく、せいはかたし, shi wa yasu, sei wa katashi] dying is easy; living is hard

霜と嘘とは後が悪い
[しもとうそとはのちがわるい, shimo to uso to wa ato ga warui] frost and fraud both end in foul

釈迦に説教
[しゃかにせっきょう, Shaka ni sekkyou] coals to Newcastle; preaching to the converted; like teaching a fish to swim (Literally: a sermon to the Buddha. Note that here Shaka is short for Shakyamuni, the birth name of the historical Buddha.)

借金なければ危険なし
[しゃっきんなければきけんなし, shakkin nakereba kiken nashi] without debt there is no danger (Latin: felix qui nihil debet [happy is he who owes nothing])

衆口は金をとかす
[しゅうこうはかねをとかす, shukou wa kane o tokasu] criticism by many people can melt metal

正直一遍
[しょうじきいっぺん, shoujiki ippen] honest but nothing more

正直は一生の宝
[しょうじきはいっしょうのたから, shoujiki wa isshou no takara] honesty is a treasure for life (for everyone)

正直は最上の政策
[しょうじきはさいじょうのせいさく, shoujiki wa saijou no seisaku] honesty is the best policy

小人怒りやすい
[しょうじんいかりやすい, shoujin ikari-yasui] little men anger easily

書物は保存された心なり
[しょもつはほぞんされたこころなり, shomotsu wa hozon sareta kokoro naru] books are preserved minds

知る者言わず、言う者知らず
[しるものいわず、いうものしらず, shiru mono iwazu, iu mono shirazu] those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know

白と黒の差
[しろとくろのさ, shiro to kuro no sa] as different as black and white

神出鬼没
[しんしゅつきぼつ, shinshutsu kibotsu] appear and disappear, to; fade in and out quickly, to (lit.: emerge like a god would, then vanish as a demon would)

進退極まる
[しんたいきわまる, shintai kiwamaru] be in a dilemma

死んだ子の年を数える
[しんだこのとしをかぞえる, shinda go no toshi o kazoeru] count the age of a dead child,to; cry over spilt milk

辛抱する木に金がなる
[しんぼうするきにかねがなる, shinbou suru ki ni kane ga aru] money grows on the tree of patience

信用は無形の財産
[しんようはむけいのざいさん, shinyou wa mukei no zaisan] credit is an invisible asset; credit is better than gold

真理は神の娘なり
[しんりはかみのむすめなり, shinri wa kami no musume nari] truth is the daughter of the gods

真理は常に中庸に存す
[しんりはつねにちゅうようにそんす, shinri wa tsune ni chuuyou ni sonsu] truth is always found in the middle way

自画自賛
[じがじさん, jiga jisan] self-praise; self-adulation; self-congratulations; sing one's own praises, to; toot one's own horn, to (lit.: one's own painting, one's own praise)

自己の本分を守れ
[じこのほんぶんをまもれ, jiko no honbun o mamore] do what you are to do, let the cobbler stick to his last

自業自得
[じごうじとく, jigou jitoku] be one’s own fault, to; serve one right, to; reap what one has sown

地獄で仏に会うよう
[じごくでほとけにあうよう, jigoku de hotoke ni au you] like meeting a Buddha in hell; an oasis in a desert

慈善は家庭より始まる
[じぜんはかていよりはじまる, jizen wa katei yori hajimaru] charity begins at home (a direct translation from the English)

自慢のくそは犬までも食わぬ
[じまんのくそはいぬまでもくわぬ, jiman no kuso wa inu made mo kuwanu] not even a dog will eat the stool of a braggart

蛇の道は蛇
[じゃのみちはへび, ja no michi wa hebi] an old poacher makes the best keeper (lit.: snakes follow the path of large serpents)

十人十色
[じゅうにんとういろ, juunin touiro] to each his (her) own; different strokes for different folks (lit.: ten people, ten colors)

十人十腹
[じゅうにんとうはら, juunin touhara] many men, many minds (lit.: ten men, ten abdomens [considered the seat of intellect and emotion in premodern Japan])

上戸は毒を知らず、下戸は薬を知らず
[じょうごはどくをしらず、げこはくすりをしらず, jougo wa doku o shirazu, geko wa kusuri o shirazu] the drinker does not know the poison, the teetotaler the medicine (in sake)

上戸は本性を現す
[じょうごはほんしょうをあらわす, jougo wa honshou o arawasu] the drinker reveals his true character

上手の手から水が漏る
[じょうずのてからみずがもる, jouzu no te kara mizu ga moreru] Even Homer nods (lit.: skilled hands still spill water)

人生は朝つやの如し
[じんせいはあさつやのごとし, jinsei wa asa tsuya no gotoshi] life is like the morning dew; life is but a bubble

人生は走馬灯の如し
[じんせいはそうまとうのごとし, jinsei wa soumatou no gotoshi] life is a kaleidoscope; life has its ups and downs

人生は風前の灯火
[じんせいはふうぜんのともしび, jinsei wa fuuzen no tomoshibi] very hazardous and uncertain (lit.: a candlelight before the wind)


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