Here is some of popular proverbs people in Japan still use in daily conversations. If you know these proverbs, not only you can enjoy conversation but also you will be getting respect immediately. So, let’s learn Japanese Proverbs.
Boro kite mo kokoro wa nishiki.
Though in rags (boro), he has a heart (kokoro) of brocade (nishiki).
What counts is nobility of character rather than appearances. Pretty much the same idea is embodied in the English proverb: “Better go to heaven in rags than to hell in embroidery.”
Bozu nikukerya kesa made nikui.
He that hates a bonze hates his surplice, too.
This proverb, presumably of Buddhist origin, refers to one of the human foibles, and is said of a man who, unable to forget and forgive, is liable to hate the whole family of the person he hates. It is common knowledge that in this world of ours there are many Montagues and Capulets. “He who hates Peter harms his dogs.” The word bozu which means a Buddhist priest, has crept into the larger English dictionaries in the Anglicized form of “bonze.” The word kesa, usually translated by “surplice,” is derived from the Sanscrit kasaya.
Bushi wa kuwanedo takayoji.
A warrior uses a toothpick even when he has had no meal. (The samurai glories in honorable poverty.)
The two-sworded samurai (bushi) of feudal Japan was expected to rise above poverty and hunger; hence this proverb. Gone are the days of samurai, but the proverb is still quoted from time to time in reference to a man of sterling character who simply cannot bring himself to stoop to beg even in poverty. Another samurai proverb has this, “Bushi ni nigon nashi” (The samurai has no double tongue). The samurai was thus proverbially regarded as the last man to talk with his tongue in his cheek. A Japanese will sometimes resort to this latter proverb affectedly when he simply means to say, “You can take my word for it,” “I shall never go back on my word,” or something of that sort.
Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru.
Even dust, when piled up, may form a hill.
This is the Japanese way of saying, “Many a mickle makes a muckle.”
Cho chin ni tsurigane.
A paper lantern matched with a temple bell.
A huge bronze bell hangs from the beam of the belfry of a Japanese Buddhist temple. Paper lanterns are also often seen hanging. In other words, a paper lantern resembles a temple bell in the sense that they both can be seen hanging. But that is about the only point of similarity between them. In all other points the one can hardly bear comparison with the other. Hence, the proverb is often used as a metaphor for an unequal match, especially for a morganatic marriage, that is, a marriage between a man of high rank and a woman of lower rank. There is another proverb Tsuri awanu wa fuen no moto, of which the meaning is: “An ill-matched marriage spells discord.”
Choja no manto hinja no itto.
One lantern from a poor man is preferred to a myriad lanterns from a millionare.
The reference is to the practice of Buddhist devotees offering lanterns to their temple. The meaning is that a small gift from a poor but pious parishioner is of a higher value as an act of charity than a substantial one from the wealthy; that what deserves appreciation is not so much the amount of a donation as the sincerity of the donor. Note the rhyme in this proverb.
Three in the morning and four in the evening.
The allusion is to the allegory of the monkey showman and his monkeys as told in the writings of Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher. The monkey keeper told his charges that he would give them three fruits in the morning and four in the evening. The monkeys were not pleased with this proposal. So he reversed the order, offering to give them four in the morning and three in the evening. This satisfied the monkeys. Hence, the saying refers to a ruse resorted to in inveigling a person into accepting what may be implied in the American slang word, apple-sauce, by offering an alternative whose difference is more apparent than real.
Chushin nikun ni tsukaezu.
A loyal vassal does not serve two masters.
This comes from the work of Ssu-ma Ch’ien, the first great Chinese historian. The idea was kept alive right through the age of feudalism as the guiding principle of the warrior class. Compare this with the biblical expression, “No man can serve two masters.”
Dai wa sho o kaneru.
The greater serves for the lesser.
The truism contained in this proverb often stands us in good stead in practical life. Since there are exceptions to this, as to many other things, sometimes this proverb is modified by addition of Shakushi wa mimikaki ni naranu (But then, a ladle will not serve as an earpick).
Deru kugi wa utareru.
A nail (kugi) that sticks out is hammered.
What is implied by this proverb is that there is unwisdom in being too forward, and wisdom in lying low. Impudence courts disaster. A tall tree catches much wind.
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TOURIST LIBRARY 20 Japanese Proverbs And Proverbial Phrases
Written by Rokuo Okada
Published by JAPAN TRAVEL BUREAU 1955