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Japanese Lesson #2: Proverbs

» Features, Japanese Lessons | posted by Piro^kun on 01/27/2006 [Discuss]

For this lesson, I decided to give you guys some fancy Japanese proverbs to keep you busy. I’ll be adding more soon, and feel free to email me (pirokun(at)gmail(dot)com) with some of  your own (or post in the Japanese Lesson forum). Please .. NO “Confucious says” proverbs.

Ok … here are a few that I found:

Iwanu ga hana
- Literally: “Not speaking is the flower”
- Meaning: Some things are better left unsaid / “Silence is golden”

Hana ni arashi
?????帢雲 or ??????雲] ?????
- From the Japanese saying “Tsuki ni murakumo, hana ni arashi”
- Literally: Clouds over the moon, a storm over blossoms
- Meaning: life often brings misfortune at the time of great happiness

Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu
- Literally: “the hawk with talent hides its talons”
- Meaning: a wise person keeps some talents in reserve / the person who knows most, often says least / one shouldn’t show off.

Rakka eda ni kaerazu hakkyou futatabi terasazu
- Literally: “fallen blossom doesn’t return to the branch, a broken mirror can not be made to shine”
- Meaning: what’s done is done / do not cry over spilled milk

Ningen banji saiou ga uma
- Literally: “humans everything venerable Sai horse” (In the Japanese language, words are often ommited in a conversation. You sometimes have to guess who or what the subject and/or object of a phrase are based on the rest of the conversation or based on common knowledge.)
- Meaning: All human affairs are like Saiou’s horse: what at first appears to be good luck may turn out to be bad luck and vice versa; inscrutable are the ways of Heaven; fortune is unpredictable and changeable.
- Origin: From a Chinese folk tale about an old man called Sai.
One day his horse ran away. His neighbours commiserated with him over his misfortune, but Sai said “How do you know this is not really good luck?”. A few days later the horse returned, bringing another horse with it. His neighbours congratulated him on his good luck, the old man said “How do you know this is really good luck?” Some while later Sai’s son while riding the horse falls and breaks his leg. This in turn was good fortune because when all the men of the village are ordered to join the Emperor’s army. Sai’s son doesn’t have to go since he has a broken leg.

Hana yori dango
- Literally: “Dumplings rather than flowers”
- Meaning: the practical is preferred over the aesthetic
- Origin: In spring, Japanese traditionally go to the countryside or parks for flower viewing (hanami). But they often seem to be more interested in eating foods or drinking alcohol (and littering the place with filth) than appreciating the beauty of the flowers. It shows a part of human nature.
- This proverb can also be translated as “boys rather than flowers”, instead of the dumplings (food and alcohol), boys are prefered. I haven’t seen the anime series “Hana Yori Dango” yet, but I’ve been told the second meaning applies to it. [ 団? is pronounced “dango”, (sweet) dumpling, but ?? is pronounced “danshi”, youth/young man, so this is a Japanese pun of ?.]

The English parts of this list are often a litteral translation of the given Japanese proverb. Since a lot of those are existing English proverbs I’m not sure if these are just English ones translated to Japanese, or if they are actually used in Japan…

Akuji senri o hashiru
Literally: Bad things run a thousand ri (1 ri = 2.44 landmiles, or 4 km).
Translation: Bad news travels fast.

Asu no hyaku yori, kyou no gojuu
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Doubyou ai awaremu
Literally: Fellow sufferers pity each other.
Translation: Misery loves company.

Hitotara ka ayamachi nukaru’n
Literally: People make mistakes.
Translation: To err is human; errare humanum est.
Note: this proverb is not used in Japan, but merely a translation of the Latin proverb.

Hitsuyou wa hatsumei no haha
Necessity is the mother of invention.

Ikkoku senkin
Literally: One quarter of an hour, one thousand pieces of gold (priceless).
Translation: Very valuable time; time is precious; time is money.

Ro-ma wa ichinichi ni shite narazu
Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Kane no kireme ga en no kireme
Where poverty comes in at the door, love flies out the window.

Kai inu ni te wo kamareru
Bite the hand that feeds one.

Kannin bukuro no o ga kireru
Literally: The cord of one’s store of patience breaks.
Translation: The straw that broke the camel’s back; to be out of patience; to be unable to put up with something anymore.

Kouin ya no gotoshi
Time flies like an arrow.

Korobanu saki no tsue
Look before you leap.

Koronde mo tada wa okinai
After a fire, hold a fire sale

Kyuu sureba tsuuzu
Translation: Necessity is the mother of invention

Me wa kuchihodo ni mono o iu
The eyes say as much as the tongue.

Mekura hebi ni ojizu
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Oka ni agatta kappa
Like a fish out of water.

Saigetsu hito o matazu
Time and tide wait for no man.

Sannin yoreba, monju no chie
Two heads are better than one.

Saru mono hibi ni utoshi
Out of sight, out of mind.

Sawaranu kami ni tatari nashi
Let sleeping dogs lie.

Seishin ittou nanigoto ka narazaran
Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Kon’ya no shiro bakama
The shoemaker’s children go barefoot.

Saru mo ki kara ochiru
Literally: Even monkeys fall out of trees.
Translation: Anyone can make a mistake.

Gou ni itte wa gou ni shitagae
Translation: When in Rome do as the Romans.

Hatake kara hamaguri wa torenu
???????????? or ????????????
Literally: you cannot take a clam from a rice field.
Translation: You can’t get blood from a stone.
Note: I’m not sure about the kanji.

Sendo uko shite fune yama ni noboru
Too many cooks spoil the soup.

Seite wa koto wo shisonjiru
Haste makes waste.

Shiranu ga hotoke
Translation: Ignorance is bliss.

Shoujiki wa saizen no saku
Translation: Honesty is the best policy.

Sugitaru wa oyobazaru ga gotoshi
Too much is as bad as too little.

Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru
Great oaks from little acorns grow.

Koi to seki to wa kakusarenu
Love conquers all.

Yanagi ni kaze
Literally: The wind [goes] over the willow.
Translation: Follow the path of least resistance.

Nana korobi ya oki
Literally: Fall seven times, stand up eight times.
Translation: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again; the vicissitudes of life; always rising after a fall or repeated failures.

Heso o kamedomo oyobanu
Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Suntetsu hito wo sasu
Literally: Stab the pithy saying man (he who speaks vigorously).
Translation: Brevity is the soul of wit.
Note: I don’t know how this is written in Kanji, but “hito” could also be written like ??徒 which means “bandit”. And bandits usually had smaller weapons, which would also explain the original meaning of 鉄, a short blade.

Takara no mochigusare
Literally: The owner of a treasure will rot/be spoiled. [not too sure about this]
Translation: Pearls thrown before a swine; to give something beautiful to someone who won’t appreciate its value; a white elephant.

Toki wa kane nari
Time is money

Tora no i wo kariru kitsune
Literally: A fox who borrows the skin of a tiger
Translation: A bluffer.

Tsukiyo ni chouchin
Literally: A paper lantern in a moonlit night.
Translation: Coals to Newcastle.

Yasumono kai no zeni ushinau
Penny wise, pound foolish

Yowarime ni tatarime
Literally: In time of weakness, there is an evil eye.
Translation: Misfortunes never come singly; it never rains but it pours.

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