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Kotowaza - Japanese Proverb

Updated on February 13, 2012

Kotowaza - Japanese Proverbs

Kotowaza are words of wisdom or ancient sayings that have many practical uses for the gaijin (foreigners) living in Japan. Most kotowaza are of ancient Chinese origin, but some have been derived from Japan's own history, other foreign countries or have been made from more modern expressions.

Kotowaza take the place of long explanations, or circumlocution because they get the desired meaning across in a more direct, understandable way.

Skillful use of the Kotowaza by a non-native speaker can help present oneself to the Japanse people as a wise and well studied scholar.

When used correctly, Kotowaza can express ideas that you want to convey, in an impressive, and meaningful manner. Japanese Kotowaza can be a powerful Japanese language ally. We'll take a look at the meaning behind these proverbs, then add them to our Japanese language arsenal. After understanding their literal and metaphorical meaning, we can, of course, plug and play the kotowaza into our own Japanese conversations to really impress the Japanese with our language skills. Use these ancient Japanese expressions - the Kotowaza - to our speaking advantage.

Say this kotowaza the next time you want to impress the Japanese and watch their reactions, you will be surprised at how well they work.




Japanese Kotowaza -

Saru mo ki kara ochiru - Even Monkeys Fall From Trees

Saru Mo Ki Kara Ochiru

This kotowaza is a useful Japanese proverbs. Like other kotowaza it talks about animals. Saru is the word for monkeys in Japanese and it has us re-evaluate our take on these skillful tree climbers of the jungle - monkeys. Have you ever seen monkeys, monkey'ing around? They are coordinated physically and are well suited to a life of trees proving that they are skillful animals when it comes to climbing and swinging around on the branches of trees.

This proverb - SARU MO KI KARA OCHIRU - helps me understand that there is not much we can do about our imperfectness. Everybody makes mistakes, nobody is perfect. Even the monkeys themselves, on occassion, have been spotted to fall from trees.

Even the greatest of mortals, and demi-gods like Hercules, Achilles and Samson, all possessed a particular vulnerability, weakness, or tragic flaw. But as this proverb points out even these great semi-mortal men had flaws and were not perfect in every way - "Even Monkeys Fall From Trees."

Nobody is perfect - Even monkeys fall from trees.

Next time you want to impress your Japanese friends with your smooth newly learned kotowaza, just say "saru mo ki kara ochiru" - nobody is perfect, even monkeys fall from trees. Slap this kotowaza on at just the right time in a conversation and watch the unmistakeable reactions you'll receive. Don't forget good pronunciation.



As always,

Ganbatte Ne!

Do Your Best!


Japanese proverb dictionary - Needing a good Japanese Proverb Dictionary?

Use Proverbs to your advantage -

Got a kotowaza you want featured?

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    • japanetics profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      There is another kotowaza for those interested... please see

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Give me more KOTOWAZA please! What's up with stopping the flow of KOTOWAZA, give me more


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