Japanese Sayings, Proverbs and Words of Wisdom
This page contains a table of selected Japanese sayings and proverbs. They're words of wisdom from ancient times; short popular sayings of unknown authorship, expressing some general truth, superstition or wisdom.
Some of them make you ponder and think, some of them make you laugh, and some put you straight on path of enlightenment.
Make sure to check our Learn Japanese page, which contains several lessons that might help you in your learning process.
|Japanese Sayings and Wisdom Words|
|悪妻は百年の不作。 (Akusai wa hyaku-nen no fusaku) Literally: A bad wife spells a hundred years of bad harvest.
Meaning: A bad wife is a ruin of her husband.
|残り物には福がある。 (Nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru) Literally: Luck exists in the leftovers.
Meaning: There is luck in the last helping.
|虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず。 (Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu) Literally: If you do not enter the tiger's cave, you will not catch its cub.
Meaning: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. / You can't do anything without risking something.
|夏炉冬扇 （karo tōsen) Literally: Summer heater winter fan
Meaning: Something which is out of season and therefore rendered useless.
|花鳥風月 (Kachou Fuugetsu) Literally: Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon
Meaning: Experience the beauties of nature, and in doing so learn about yourself.
|起死回生 (kishi kaisei) Literally: Wake from death and return to life
Meaning: To come out of a desperate situation and make a complete return in one sudden burst.
|自業自得 (Jigou Jitoku) Literally: One's Act, One's profit/Advantage.
Meaning: That's what you get, Just desserts, You reap what you sow.
|瓜田李下 (kaden rika) Literally: Melon field, under a plum tree
Meaning: Stepping into a melon field, standing under a plum tree (, such behavior causes misunderstanding that you want to steal those fruits); implying that you must avoid actions which could be taken on a bad faith.
|晴天の霹靂 (Seiten no heki-reki) Literally: Thunderclap from a clear sky.
Meaning: A bolt from the blue. / A complete surprise.
|猿も木から落ちる。 (Saru mo ki kara ochiru) Literally: Even monkeys fall from trees.
Meaning: Everyone makes mistakes. / Nobody's perfect.
|蓼食う虫も好き好き (Tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki) Literally: There are even bugs that eat knotweed.
Meaning: There's no accounting for taste. / To each his own.
|井の中の蛙大海を知らず。 (I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu) Literally: A frog in a well does not know the great sea.
Meaning: People are satisfied to judge things by their own narrow experience, never knowing of the wide world outside.
|蛙の子は蛙。 (Kaeru no ko wa kaeru) Literally: Child of a frog is a frog.
Meaning: Like father, like son.
|鳶が鷹を産む。 (Tonbi (or Tobi) ga taka wo umu) Literally: A kite breeding a hawk.
Meaning: A splendid child born from common parents.
|覆水盆に帰らず。 (Fukusui bon ni kaerazu) Literally: Spilt water will not return to the tray.
Meaning: It's no use crying over spilt milk. / A separated couple can never go back to as it was.
|二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず。 (Ni usagi wo ou mono wa ichi usagi wo mo ezu) Literally: One who chases after two hares won't catch even one.
Meaning: Trying to do two things at once will make you fail in both.
|継続は力なり。 (Keizoku wa chikara nari) Literally: Continuance (also) is power/strength.
Meaning: Don't give up. Just continuing to hold on will yield/reveal strength and power. Continuing on after a setback is its own kind of strength. Perseverance is power.
|門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む。 (Mon zen no kozō narawanu kyō wo yomu) Literally: An apprentice near a temple will recite the scriptures untaught.
Meaning: The environment makes our characters.
|知らぬが仏 (Shiranu ga hotoke) Literally: Not knowing is Buddha.
Meaning: Ignorance is bliss. / It's better to not know the truth.
|見ぬが花 (Minu ga hana) Literally: Not seeing is a flower.
Meaning: Things will never be as you imagine, so you're better off not seeing them. / Reality can't compete with imagination.
|猫に小判 (neko ni koban) Literally: gold coins to a cat.
Meaning: Giving a gift to someone who can't appreciate it; A useless gesture; "Pearls before swine."
|猫に鰹節 (neko ni katsuobushi) Literally: fish to a cat.
Meaning: A situation where one can not let their guard down (because the cat can't resist stealing your fish).
|七転び八起き (nanakorobi yaoki) Literally: stumbling seven times but recovering eight.
Meaning: perseverance is better than defeat.
|三日坊主 (mikka bōzu) Literally: a monk for (just) three days.
Meaning: Giving up at the first sign of difficulty.
|案ずるより産むが易し。 (Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi) Literally: Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it.
Meaning: Fear is greater than the danger. / An attempt is sometimes easier than expected.
|馬鹿は死ななきゃ治らない。 (Baka wa shinanakya naoranai) Literally: Unless an idiot dies, he won't be cured.
Meaning: Only death will cure a fool. / You can't fix stupid.
|出る杭は打たれる。 (Deru kui wa utareru) Literally: The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.
Meaning: Don't make waves / Apply your effort where it will do the most good / Excellence breeds envy and/or enmity / It's better to conform than to stick out.
|挨拶は時の氏神。 (Aisatsu wa toki no ujigami) Literally: A greeting is the local deity who turns up providentially.
Meaning: Arbitration in a quarrel is a godsend.
|秋茄子は嫁に食わすな。 (Akinasu wa yome ni kuwasuna) Literally: Don't let your daughter-in-law eat your autumn eggplants.
Meaning: Don't let yourself be taken advantage of.
|花よりだんご (hana yori dango) Literally: dumplings over flowers
Meaning: The person to whom it is directed prefers practical gain to aesthetics.
|水に流す (mizu ni nagasu) Literally: let flow in the water
Meaning: Forgive and forget; water under the bridge
|雨降って地固まる (ame futte chi katamaru) Literally: after the rain, earth hardens
Meaning: Adversity builds character./After a storm, things will stand on more solid ground than they did before.
|油を売る (abura o uru) Literally: to sell oil
Meaning: to spend time chitchatting or to waste time in the middle of a task.
|竜頭蛇尾 (ryuutou dabi) Literally: dragon, head, snake, tail
Meaning: Anticlimax, the beginning is like a dragons head, great and majestic and the ending is like a snakes tail, tiny and pathetic.
|晴耕雨読 (seiko udoku) Literally: clear sky, cultivate, rainy, reading
Meaning: Farm when it's sunny, read when it rains.
|四面楚歌 (Shimen soka) Literally: Chu songs on all sides
Meaning: Defeat is clear; Situation is desperate beyond hope.
|十人十色 (jūnin toiro) Literally: ten men, ten colors
Meaning: To each his/her own. / Different strokes for different folks.
|三日坊主 (mikka bouzu) Literally: 3 day monk.
Meaning: Someone who gives up easily or is adverse to work.
|大同小異 (daidō shōi) Literally: big similarity, small difference
Meaning: Similarities outweigh the differences.
|一石二鳥 (isseki nichō) Literally: one stone, two birds
Meaning: Killing two birds with one stone; Doing 2 things with one action.
|雲散霧消 (unsan mushō) Literally: scattered clouds, disappearing mist
Meaning: Disappear without a trace.
|我田引水 (gaden insui) Literally: pulling water to my own rice paddy
Meaning: Doing/speaking about things in a way to benefit yourself.
|Other Japanese Proverbs|
|Ayamachitewa aratamuruni habakaru koto nakare. If you make a mistake, don't hesitate to correct it.|
|Aho ni toriau baka. It is foolish to deal with a fool.|
|Aite no nai kenka wa denkinu. One cannot quarrel without an opponent.|
|Ame futte ji katamaru. Rained on ground hardens (Adversity builds character).|
|Asu no koto o ieba, tenjo de nezumi ga warau. Talk about things of tomorrow and the mice inside the ceiling laugh (Nobody knows what tomorrow might bring).|
|Baka ga atte riko ga hikitatsu. Due to the presence of fools wise people stand out.|
|Baka na ko hodo kawaii. The more stupid the child the dearer it is.|
|Bushi wa kuwanedo taka-yoji. A samurai, even when he has not eaten, uses his toothpick.|
|Chisa wa madowazu, yusha wa osorezu. A wise man does not lose his way, a brave man does not fear.|
|Deta-toko shobu. To gamble as the dice fall.|
|Doku kurawaba sara made. If eating poison finish up the plate (or, If eating poison don't forget to lick the plate)..|
|Gaden insui. To draw water into one's own rice field|
|Inu o mikka kaeba san-nen on o wasurenu, neko wa san-nen katte mikka de on o wasureru. Feed a dog for three days and it is gratefull for three years. Feed a cat for three years and it forgets after three days.|
|Ippai-me wa hito sake o nomi, nihai-me wa sake sake o nomi, sanbai-me wa sake hito o nomu. With the first glass a man drinks wine, with the second glass the wine drinks the wine, with the third glass the wine drinks the man.|
|Koji ma Oshi. Good things, many devils.|
|Ko-in ya no gotoshi. Time flies like an arrow.|
|Kuni yaburete, sanga ari. The country is in ruins, and there are still mountains and rivers.|
|Kokai saki ni tatazu. Repentance never comes first.|
|Me wa kuchi hodo ni mono o ii. The eyes speak as much as the mouth.(love needs no words)|
|Me wa kokoro no kagami. The eyes are the mirror of the soul.|
|Mime yori kokoro. Heart rather than appearance.|
|Mimi o oute, suzu o nusumu. Cover the ears and steal the bell.|
|Migi no mimi kara hidari no mimi. to go in the right ear and out the left.|
|Mitsugo no tamashii hyaku made. The soul of a three year old until a hundred.|
|Mizukara boketsu o horu. to dig one's grave|
|Muri ga toreba, dori hikkomu. If unreason comes, reason goes.|
|Muyo no cho-butsu. a useless long object|
|Naite kurasu mo issho, waratte kurasu mo issho. It is the same life whether we spend it crying or laughing.|
|Nana korobi, ya oki. to fall seven times, to rise eight times|
|Nurenu saki koso tsuyu omo itoe. People want to avoid the dew before they become wet.|
|Shunsho ikkoku, atai senkin. Half an hour in a spring evening is worth a thousand gold pieces.|
|Sode fure-au mo tasho no en. Even when our sleeves brush together it is our karma.|
|Sugitaru wa nao oyobazaru ga gotoshi. Let what is past flow away downstream.|
|Tazei ni buzei. Few against many.|
|Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu. The hawk with talent hides its talons (The person who knows most often says least).|
|Hotoke no kao mo san-do made. Even the Buddha's face, only until the third [slap], meaning even the most mild-mannered person will lose his/her temper eventually.|
|Saru mo ki kara ochiru. Even monkees fall from trees (Even an expert can make mistakes).|
|Tonari no shibafu wa aoi. The neighbour's lawn is green (The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence).|
|Gou ni itte wa, gou ni shitagae. Entering the village, obey the village (When in Rome, do as the Romans do)|
|Iwanu ga hana. Not-speaking is the flower (Silence is golden)|
|Fuku sui bon ni kaerazu. Overturned water doesn't return to the tray (There's no use crying over spilt milk).|
|Atama kakushite, shiri kakusazu. Cover your head, and not cover your bottom (Don't cover your head but expose your bottom, ie: you have to be careful not to expose your weak point while attempting to protect yourself).|
|Uma no mimi ni nembutsu. A sutra (Buddhist prayer) in a horse's ear (A wasted effort).|
|Baka mo ichi-gei. Even a fool has one talent (Even a fool may be good at something).|
|Neko ni koban. A coin to a cat (Don't offer things to people who are incapable of appreciating them).|
|Yabu wo tsutsuite hebi wo dasu. Poke a bush, a snake comes out (Let sleeping dogs lie).|
I hope the content of this page was interesting to you, and that it helped you discover some Japanese sayings, proverbs and words of wisdom.