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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.



若い時に度ない
[わかいときにどない, wakai toki ni do nai] gather roses while ye may (lit.: one is young but once; i.e.: make the most of your youth since you are only young once)

我が刀で我が首切る
[わがかたなでかがくびきる, waga katana de waga kubi kiru] cut off one's own head with one's own sword; to shoot oneself in the foot (i.e.: to suffer because of one's own foolish actions or decisions)

我がくそ臭くなし
[わがくそくさくなし, waga kuso kusakunashi] I see not my own flaws (lit.: my own shit does not stink)

我がことは棚にあげておく
[わがことはたなにあげておく, waga koto wa tana ni agete oku] I put my own affairs on the shelf (i.e.: what a selfish person does when ignoring his own problems and focusing on the faults of others)

我が子の悪事は見えぬもの
[わがこのあくじはみえぬもの, waga ko no akuji wa mienu mono)] the neighbor's children are always the worst; parents are blind to the evil in their own children (lit.: one cannot see the evil acts of one's own children)

我が仏は尊し
[わがほとけはとうとし, waga hotoke wa toutou] the crow thinks her own young fairest; we each think our own things are the best (lit.: one's own Buddha is exhalted)

我が身のことは人に問え
[わがみのことはひとにとえ, wagami no koto wa hito ni toe] ask others about matters concerning me (i.e.: we do not know ourselves so well that we should ignore what others have to say about us)

我が身をつねって人の痛さを知れ
[わがみをつねってひとのいたさをしれ, wagami o tsunette hito no itasa o shire] know the pain of others by pinching yourself (i.e.: sympathy and empathy are improtant for understanding others)

我が家に比すべきところなし
[わがやにひすべきところなし, wagaya ni hisubeki toroko nashi] there is no place like home (lit.: there is no place that compares with my house)

我が家の仏尊し
[わがやのほとけたっとし, wagaya no hotoke tattoshi] the Buddha in one's own home is the best (i.e.: we each think our own religion is the best)

災い転じて福となす
[わざわいてんじてふくとなす, wazawai tenjite fuku to nasu] turn misfortune into fortune, to; bad luck often brings good luck

災いは口より出で、病は口より入る
[わざわいはくちよりいで、やまいはくちよりいる, wazawai wa kuchi yori dashi, yamai wa kuchi yori iru] misfortune comes out of the mouth, disease goes in through the mouth

災いは口より来る
[わざわいはくちよりきたる, wazawai wa kuchi yori kitaru] misfortunte comes from the mouth (i.e.: the words we speak, which cannot be taken back once spoken, cause great harm)

災いも三年たてば役に立つ
[わざわいもさんねんたてばやくにたつ, wazawai mo san-nen tateba yaku ni tatsu] a misfortune borne for three years will be useful; keep a thing seven years and you will find a use for it (i.e.: tolerating misfortunate can help one develop patience and perseverence)

鷲の子
[わしのこ, washi no ko] the devil's arm (lit.: the eagle's young; used to indicate great fondness for someone)

渡りに船
[わたりにふね, watari ni fune] a timely occurrence, a rescue (lit.: a boat at a crossing)

渡る世界に鬼はない
[わたるせかいにおにはない, wataru sekai ni oni wa nai] there is no demon in the world we live in (lit.: there is no demon in the world we are passing through; in other words, the world is not as bad as it may seem)

笑って暮らすも一生、泣いて暮らすも一生
[わらってくらすもいっしょう、ないてくらすもいっしょう, waratte kurasu mo isshou, naite kurasu mo isshou] it is one life whether spent laughing or weeping (i.e.: you have a choice as to how you live your life, what you choose to do and feel)

笑って損したものなし
[わらってそんしたものなし, waratte sonshita mono nashi] there is no loss to be had by laughing (i.e.: a smile brings pleasure to others as well as yourself, though the Japanese tend to keep a bland, neutral expression in public)

藁で束ねても、男は一匹
[わらでたばねても、おとこはいっぴき, wara de tabanetemo, otoko ha ippiki] a man of straw is worth a woman of gold (lit.: even though just a bundle of straw, a man still counts; i.e.: a man has some value even if he appears worthless. This saying reflects the attitudes about men and women in pre-modern Japan)

割れ鍋に綴じ蓋
[われなべにとじぶた, ware nabe ni tojibuta] like to like; every Jack has his Jill (lit.: a mended lid for a cracked kettle; that is to say that both husband and wife each have their flaws)

我人に辛ければ人もまた我に辛し
[われひとにつらければひともまたわれにつらし, ware hito ni tsurakereba, hito mo mata ware ni tsurashi] if I am hard on other people, then other people will be hard on me; what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

笑お者ははかるべからず
[わろおものははかるべからず, waroo mono wa hagaru bekarazu] a laughing person cannot be estimated (i.e.: beware of laughter, since it may disguise devious designs)


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