28 Japanese Proverbs

1. 雲泥の差
Reading: うんでいのさ (undei no sa)
Translation: “the separation between clouds and mud”
Meaning: A vast difference between two things.

2. 犬猿の仲
Reading: けんえんのなか (ken’en no naka)
Translation: “the relationship of dogs and monkeys”
Meaning: A relationship of mutual hatred. Natural enemies.

3. 為せば成る
Reading: なせばなる (naseba naru)
(Literal) Translation: “if you take action, it will become”
Meaning: You can do it if you try.

4. 青天の霹靂
Reading: せいてんのへきれき (seiten no hekireki)
Translation: A bolt (lit. thunder) out of the blue (sky).

5. 鴨が葱をしょって来る
Reading: かもがねぎをしょってくる (kamo ga negi o shotte kuru)
Translation: “a duck comes along carrying a leek on its back”
Meaning: A very convenient happening, a stroke of luck.
Explanation: The reason for this proverb is that duck soup is made with leek, so it’s as though the duck came along just asking you to eat it.
Note: This proverb has a short form for everyday usage, 鴨ネギ (kamonegi)

6. 忙中閑あり
Reading: ぼうちゅうかんあり (bouchuu kan ari)
Meaning: Even when you’re very busy, there’s occasionally time to take a rest.

7. 初心忘るべからず
Reading: しょしんわするべからず (shoshin wasuru bekarazu)
Translation: We should not forget our beginner’s spirit. (the excitement/humility of starting something new)

8. 頭隠して尻隠さず
Reading: あたまかくしてしりかくさず (atama kakushite siri kakusazu)
Translation: “hiding your head but not your butt”
Meaning: Failing to completely cover up your bad deeds.

9. 沈む瀬あれば浮かぶ瀬あり
Reading: しずむせあればうかぶせあり (shizumu se areba ukabu se ari)
Translation: “if the current sinks, it will rise (again)”
Meaning: Life has its ups and downs.

10. 猫の首に鈴を付ける
Reading: ねこのくびにすずをつける (neko no kubi ni suzu o tsukeru)
Translation: “to put a bell around a cat’s neck”
Meaning: To discuss doing something that is nearly impossible to do.
Note: This proverb has its origin in one of Aesop’s fables.

11. 長所は短所
Reading: ちょうしょはたんしょ (chousho wa tansho)
Translation: “our strong points are our weak points”
Meaning: Over-reliance on our strengths leads to make careless mistakes.

12. 起きて半畳,寝て一畳
Reading: おきてはんじょう、ねていちじょう (okite hanjou, nete ichijou)
Translation: “(man needs just) half a tatami mat when awake, one tatami mat when asleep.”
Meaning: You need not be rich to live a satisfied life.

13. 李下に冠を整さず
Reading: りかにかんむりをたださず (rika ni kanmuri o tadasazu)
Translation: “don’t straighten your crown under the plum tree”
Meaning: Don’t invite undue suspicion on yourself.
Note: Because if you’re fiddling with your crown under the plum tree, people might think you’re trying to steal plums.

14. 猫を追うより皿を引け
Reading: ねこをおうよりさらをひけ (neko o ou yori sara o hike)
Translation: “rather than chase the cat, take away the plate”
Meaning: Attack problems at their root.

15. 井の中の蛙大海を知らず
Reading: いのなかのかわずたいかいをしらず (i no naka no kawazu, taikai o shirazu)
Translation: “the frog in the well knows not of the great ocean”
Explanation: This proverb is a metaphor for being mentally trapped by a narrow understanding of things.
Note: kawazu is the old way to say “frog”, in modern Japanese they are called kaeru

16. 多芸は無芸
Reading: たげいはむげい (tagei wa mugei)
Translation: “many skills is no skill”
Meaning: a Jack of all trades is a master of none.

17. 盛年重ねて来らず
Reading: せいねんかさねてきたらず (seinen kasanete kitarazu)
Translation: “the prime of your life does not come twice”
Meaning: You’re only young once.

18. 相槌を打つ
Reading: あいづちをうつ (aizuchi o utsu)
Translation: “striking the forge hammer”
Meaning: Giving verbal feedback while listening (eg. saying things like “yeah”, “uh-huh”, “I see”, etc)
Explanation: This proverb describes the rhythmic exchange of two smiths working on a katana.

19. 天は自ら助くるものを助く
Reading: てんはみずからたすくるものをたすく (ten wa mizukara tasukuru mono o tasuku)
Translation: Heaven helps those who help themselves.

20. 元も子もない
Reading: もともこもない (moto mo ko mo nai)
Meaning: Failure not only to make a profit (子 = 利益), but losing your investment (元 = 元金) too.

21. これを知るをこれを知ると為し、知らざるを知らずと為せ。これ知るなり。
Reading: これをしるをこれをしるとなし、しらざるをしらずとなせ。これしるなり。
Romaji: kore o shiru o kore o shiru to nashi, shirazaru o shirazu to nase. kore shiru nari.
Translation: To know that one knows what one knows, and to know that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, there lies true wisdom.
Note: Okay, so it’s not a proverb, it’s a Confucius (孔子/こうし) quote.

22. 窮鼠 猫を噛む
Reading: きゅうそねこをかむ (kyuuso neko o kamu)
Translation: “a cornered rat will bite the cat”
Meaning: Left with no choice, even a relatively weak person/animal will fight back.

23. 庇を貸して母家を取られる
Reading: ひさしをかしておもやをとられる (hisashi o kashite omoya o torareru)
Translation: “to lend the eaves and have the main house taken”
Meaning: Give an inch and they take a mile.

24. 悪銭 身につかず
Reading: あくせんみにつかず (akusen, mi ni tsukazu)
Translation: Dirty money doesn’t stay with a person for long.

25. ただより高い物はない
Reading: ただよりたかいものはない (tada yori takai mono wa nai)
Translation: “nothing is more expensive than free”
Meaning: Debts of money are more easily repaid than those of gratitude

26. 毒を以て毒を制する
Reading: どくをもってどくをせいする (doku o motte doku o sei suru)
Translation: “to use a poison to overcome a poison”
Meaning: Sometimes we need shady means to tackle shady problems

27. けんもほろろ
Romaji: ken mo hororo
Translation: cackle and gobble [ken and hororo are pheasant sounds]
Meaning: Being blunt & unsympathetic (attitude, response, etc.)

28. 生兵法は大怪我の基
Reading: なまびょうほうはおおけがのもと (namabyouhou wa ookega no moto)
Translation: Newly learned (unmastered) tactics are the origin of great blunders.

Credit : http://nihonshock.com/2010/03/japanese-proverbs-february-2010/

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