Japanese Proverb, “Hara hachi-bunme ni isha irazu” “Hare mono ni sawaru you” “Hari hodo no mono o bo hodo ni iu”

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.


Hara hachi-bunme ni isha irazu.
If your inside (hara) is eight-tenths full, you will need no doctor (isha).

The phrase “filling eight-tenths of one’s inside” means “moderation in eating.” We are healthy through tem­perance, and temperance is the best physic. Another proverb says, “Hara mo mi no uchi” (The abdomen is also part of the body). “Surfeits slay more than swords.”

Hare mono ni sawaru you.
It is like touching a swelling.

This expression is used in reference to the utmost care with which you treat a person, especially a moody customer, as if touching a painful swelling (haremono) on your body.

Hari hodo no mono o bo hodo ni iu.
To talk of a thing no bigger than a needle (hari) as if it were as big as a stick (bo).

Human nature being much the same the world over, people are apt to exaggerate things, to “make a mountain of a molehill.”

Hari no ana kara ten nozoku.
To look at heaven through a needle’s eye.

This speaks of the folly of those who try to measure what is long with a short yardstick, who take a narrow­minded view of things. The words “hari no ana” are often replaced by “yoshi no zui” (the pith of a reed). (“You may see heaven through a needle’s eye” according to Benham’s Book of Quotations.)

Heta no nagadangi.
Poor preachers talk long.

Poor preachers, or dull lecturers for that matter, are apt to be so long-winded as to bore their audience by their tedious talk; they do not realize that “brevity is the soul of wit.”

Heta no yokozuki.
To be crazy about a game is to be a poor hand at it.

A poor hand at a game is as often as not very fond of it. Say to a Japanese “You are very fond of tennis, aren’t you?” or something of that sort, and in all probability he will admit it quoting this proverb.

Hi kurete michi toshi.
The day (hi) is closing (kurete) and the way (michi) is still long.

This is a common experience of a traveler. People often experience in their old age a night-is-falling-but-I- have-a-long-way-to-go-yet sort of feeling, when they still have much to attain

Hidari-uchiwa de kurasu.
To live with a fan in one’s left hand.

“To live a life fanning oneself with a round-fan (uchiwa) held in one’s left hand, while his right hand is holding a winecup,” is a metaphorical expression meaning “to live in clover.” Here in Japan it has been the custom from olden times for a grown-up son to look after and support his parents when the latter get too old to work. This custom still prevails to some extent even under the post-war Constitution. So one Japanese may say to another, “How lucky you are to have such a good son! By and by you’ll be ‘living with a fan in your left hand,’ as the proverb has it.”

hidari uchiwa de kurasu
Hidari-uchiwa de kurasu

Here is a man, presumably a company executive, in native garment, enjoying the evening cool at the veranda. The fan held in his left hand indicates that he is prover­bially in affluent circumstances. The bamboo blind, too, suggests the hot season.


Hikare-mono no kouta.
A ditty from the mouth of an arrested offender (hikare-mono).

The humming of a tune by a convict on the way to the gallows indicates a pretentious display of sham noncha­lance by a doomed person in a desperate situation. This is a popular expression often on the tongue of a Japanese. “I am devilishly afraid…but I’ll sing, that I may seem valiant.” —Dryden.

Hin no nusumi, koi no uta.
Theft in poverty, poetry in love.

Poverty makes thieves, love makes poets. There are quite a number of proverbs in praise of poets and poetry.


[More Japanese Proverbs]
“Abata mo ekubo” “Aita kuchi ga fusagaranai” “Akete kuyashii tamate bako”

TOURIST LIBRARY 20 Japanese Proverbs And Proverbial Phrases
Written by Rokuo Okada
Published by JAPAN TRAVEL BUREAU 1955