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Wise Japanese Proverbs

Updated on January 3, 2016
Three streams of water from the Otowa waterfall confer wisdom, health and longevity.
Three streams of water from the Otowa waterfall confer wisdom, health and longevity. | Source

Japanese people love proverbs and use them in everyday life frequently. There is a traditional card game in Japan called “Karuta”. The game is used for education at schools in Japan to learn Japanese proverbs. Many of the commonly used Japanese proverbs have their origin in China and they are borrowed in early history. In addition, with the opening of Japan to the West, quite a few English proverbs and some from other European languages were translated into Japanese and adopted by the people. Let’s explore some of Japanese proverbs that provides a lot of wisdom.

餅は餅屋

Pronounced: Mochi wa mochiya.

Literally: For rice cakes, go to the rice-cake maker.

English equivalent: [The right man for the right job.]

Meaning:
There are plenty of people who have specialized in particular niches. When there is a specialized task to be performed, you should depend on a professional, who can do the job much more effectively than an unprofessional in the field.

⽊に餅がなる

Pronounced: Ki ni mochi ga naru.

Literally: Rice cakes grow on trees.

English equivalent: [Money doesn’t grow on trees.]

Meaning:
There are no easy ways to earn money quickly, so it is valuable, and you have only a limited amount of money. Ye have to work hard to earn money so you should be careful how much money you spend.

多芸は無芸

Pronounced: Tagei wa mugei.

Literally: Too many accomplishments make no accomplishment.

English equivalent: [Jack of all trades, master of none.]

Meaning:
Amateurs can sometimes impress people with their wide knowledge of many subjects.
However, a person who knows a little bit about everything and makes it seem like he’s a master of it all, probably isn't really good at one particular thing.

他⼈の疝気を頭痛に病む

Pronounced: Tanin no senki o zutsū ni yamu.

Literally: Don’t get a headache over another’s lumbago.

English equivalent: [Don’t meddle in others’ affairs.]

Meaning:
Most people are tempted at some point to meddle in the lives of others; especially when they feel they know what is best. The meddler thinks he has the solution to other peoples’ problems, but usually causes more harm than good.

膝とも談合

Pronounced: Hiza tomo dangō.

Literally: Consult anyone, even your knees.

English equivalent: [Two heads are better than one.]

Meaning:
You have nothing to lose when you seek out advice. When you faced with a tough decision in life, always seek out the advice of trusted friends or colleagues to help you make the best decisions. Actually, you have nothing to lose when you seek out advice.

蟹は甲羅に似せて⽳を掘る

Pronounced: Kani wa kōra ni nisete ana o horu.

Literally: Crabs dig holes according to the size of their shells.

English equivalent: [Cut your coat according to your cloth.]

Meaning:
You should match your spending to your resources, and do not try to live beyond your means. You need to be adaptable to your circumstances.

⾬垂れ⽯を穿つ

Pronounced: Amadare ishi o ugatsu.

Literally: Raindrops will wear through a stone.

English equivalent: [Slow and steady wins the race.]

Meaning:
Persistence is the true stuff of success. As long as you remain persistent with something and keep trying, never giving up, it will lead to success eventually.

⻁⽳に⼊らずんば⻁児を得ず

Pronounced: Koketsu ni irazumba koji o ezu.

Literally: You cannot catch a tiger cub unless you enter the tiger’s den.

English equivalent: [Nothing ventured, nothing gained.]

Meaning:
Anything worth having is going to take some risk to achieve. Most people limit themselves from achieving what they are truly capable of because they are afraid of failure. In fact there are no guarantees in life. If you want to achieve anything, you got to be willing to take some risks.

同病相憐れむ

Pronounced: Dōbyō-ai awaremu.

Literally: People with the same disease share sympathy.

English equivalent: [Misery loves company.]

Meaning:
When someone suffers from a disease or is unhappy and miserable, he prefer to be surrounded by people who have suffered the same or those who would listen to him and are sympathetic towards him.

河童も川流れ

Pronounced: KAPPA MO KAWA NAGARE

Literally: Even a 'Kappa' can get carried away by the river.

English equivalent: [Anyone can make mistakes.]

Meaning:
We all make mistakes. Every one of us. If we aren’t making mistakes, then we likely aren’t taking initiative or trying new things, which is a mistake itself.

© 2016 Mister Terrific

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