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.
Dobyo ai awaremu.
Fellow patients pity one another.
Though of Chinese origin, this proverb is of universal application. People who find themselves in difficulties are sympathetic towards people in similar circumstances. Sorrow keeps company with sorrow. “Misery loves company.” “Grief best is pleased with grief’s society.” —Shakespeare.
Doku o motte doku o seisuru.
To counteract poison with poison.
This proverb of Chinese origin has English parallels in “Poison drives out poison” and “Like cures like.” “And love may be expelled by other love, as poisons are by poisons.” —Dryden. A similarly worded proverb, also of Chinese origin, has “/ o motte i o seisuru (To control barbarians with barbarians), the reference being to the sort of strategy to which the Chinese of the feudal age often resorted, namely, playing both ends toward the middle. Mention may also be made of one or two other “poison” proverbs. Talking of a person or thing that is neither good nor bad, we say, “He (or It) is neither poison nor medicine.” Then there is one which somewhat corresponds to “in for a penny, in for a pound” (Doku o kurawaba sara made mo). Literally translated, it means, “If you take poison at all, lick the dish, too.”
Donguri no seikurabe.
Acorns comparing their statures, one with another.
In reference to competition among mediocrities, one might say that they are all minnows without a triton among them. Hence, this expression is used in the sense of “they are all much of a muchness.”
Dorobo o toraete nawa o nau.
To make a rope when the thief is caught.
This proverb is often abbreviated to “doronawa.” Japanese often say, “It’s a case of “doronawa” meaning “It’s a case of locking the stable after the horse has been stolen.”
E ni kaita mo chi.
A mochi (rice-cake) drawn in a picture (e).
A: “How do you like my plan?” B: “It sounds all right, but I’m afraid it’s little better than “a painted rice-cake” as the Japanese proverb has it; it is unrealistic and of little use. ‘The wine in the bottle does not quench thirst,’ you know.”
Ebi de tai o tsuru.
To catch a sea-bream with a shrimp.
Japanese fishermen know that there is no bait like shrimps for fishing for red bream. Upon obtaining something more valuable in return for a small thing, a Japanese would say, “I’ve caught a bream with a shrimp.” The English equivalents of this expression are “to throw a sprat to catch a whale,” “to bait with a sprat to catch a mackerel,” and “to give an egg to gain an ox.”
Edo no kataki o Nagasaki de utsu.
To avenge the wrong done in Edo away at Nagasaki.
Nagasaki is a noted port in north Kyushu, and it is a far cry from Edo (present Tokyo) to Nagasaki. This is said of wreaking one’s vengeance by an indirect method.
Edokko wa yoigoshi no zeni o tsukawanai.
Edoites do not keep their earnings overnight.
The reference is to one of the traits of Tokyoites who are reputed to be the reverse of thrifty. There is, of course, the other side of the shield. We have a humorous skit on Edoites in the form of a humorous 17-syllable verse: “Edokko wa satsuki no koi no fukinagashi” (Edoites are as empty, if brave, as the May carp), meaning that they have a ready tongue, but often lack the courage to suit the action to the word. By “May carp” is meant giant carp streamers of cloth or paper which swim in the air from a long pole as a part of the celebrations of the Boys’ Festival (May 5).
En-no-shita no chikara-mochi.
A strong man under the veranda.
When a Japanese performs a good but thankless task, he will humbly say, “What I’m doing is merely proverbial efforts under the veranda, which are not much appreciated.” This is a case of “asses carrying the oats and horses eating them.”
En wa ina mono (ajina mono).
Marriage is a strange thing.
This is the Japanese way of putting “Marriages go by destiny,” “Marriages are made in heaven,” etc. The adjective “ajina” means here much the same as ina, strange.
Fufu-genka wa inu mo kuwanu.
Even a dog does not eat a marital quarrel.
A quarrel between man and wife is one of the things that should be left severely alone. Such a quarrel, according to another proverb, generally stops, like the west wind, when evening comes.
Fugu wa kuitashi inochi wa oshishi.
I would like to taste a swellfish, but I would not like to lose my life.
To eat or not to eat fugu is the question over which many a Japanese vacillates. The swellfish, or puffer (fugu), is a poisonous fish, but when gutted and cleaned carefully, it is eatable and delicious. Many careless people cleaning fugu for themselves have lost their lives by swellfish poisoning. So when a person is tempted to launch a venture but cannot make up his mind to run the risk, we often quote this proverb. By extension this expression is often applied to a clash between emotion and reason, between heart and head. “Honey is sweet, but the bee stings.”
Fujiyu o tsune to omoeba fusokunashi.
If you think inconvenience is always shadowing you, you will want nothing.
This and the one that begins with “Katte” (Katte kabuto no o o shimeyo) and many others are said to be Fig. 10. Lanterns of all sizes, made of swellfish, are often sold as souvenirs. They are for ornamental rather than practical use. part of the injunctions of Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate which lasted from 1603 to 1867.
Fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto.
In with luck! Out with the demon!
In Japan there is a time-honored institution known as the bean-scattering ceremony, performed on the last day of winter, according to the old (lunar) calendar. On the night of setsubun (the parting of the seasons), as this day is called in Japanese, parched beans are scattered at some temples, as well as in homes. The incantation with which beans are scattered to drive out imaginary devils and keep potential evils out has gained currency as a proverb.
A rat in a bag.
When a fugitive from justice, a man wanted by the police, is cornered, we say he is a mouse in a trap.
Fukusui bon ni kaerazu.
Spilt water cannot be put back in the basin.
The allusion is to the anecdote of Tai Kung-wang, a famous Chinese historical figure, of whom it is said that he told his divorced wife he would receive her back if she could put spilt water back in the basin. Just as a wife, once divorced, cannot return to her husband’s house, so an opportunity, once missed, cannot be seized again. What is done is done, and cannot be undone. “It is no use crying over spilt milk.” Cf. Kokai saki ni tatazu (Repentance does not go beforehand) and Shinda ko no toshi o kazoeru (To count the age of one’s dead child).
[More Japanese Proverbs]
“Abata mo ekubo” “Aita kuchi ga fusagaranai” “Akete kuyashii tamate bako”
“Atarazu to iedomo tokarazu” “A to no matsuri” “Atsui samui mo higan made”
“AO WA AI YORI IDETE AI YORI AOSHI” “ASAMESHI MAE NO SHIGOTO” “ASA OKI WA SAN MON NO TOKU”