Japanese Proverbs

By | December 23, 2013

Sayings of Japanese origin

Your years will still remain the same whether you laugh or cry.

You won’t get sick if you have plenty of work.

You will never learn enough looking for only the good things in life; you will always be a pupil.

You warm up something for ten days and it goes cold in one.

You should climb Mount Fujiyama once in your life. Climb it twice and you’re a fool.

You have to bow a few times before you can stand upright.

You don’t have to die: heaven and hell are in this world too.

You can’t straighten a snake by putting it in a bamboo cane.

You can’t see the whole sky through a bamboo tube.

You can worship a sardine’s head if you believe in it.

You can see heaven through the eye of the needle.

You can only endure the weaknesses of others by knowing your own.

Flattery is the best persuader.

Yesterday’s flowers are today’s dreams.

Years know more than books.

Women’s quarrels cause the men’s wars.

Without women there is no day and no night.

With such father there is such a child.


Japan Flag and Map

Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south. The characters that make up Japan’s name mean “sun-origin”, which is why the country is sometimes referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands, the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Together, these four islands hold about 97 percent of the country’s land area. Japan has the world’s tenth-largest population, with more than 126 million people. Honshū’s Greater Tokyo Area includes the de facto capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures. It is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with more than 30 million residents.

Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 125 million speakers, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic language family, whose relation to other language groups, particularly to Korean and the suggested Altaic language family, is debated.

More Japanese Proverbs

With many little strokes a large tree is felled.

Wisdom is lost in a fat man’s body.

Wisdom and virtue are like the two wheels of a cart.

Wine is water adulterated by foolish talk.

Who travels for love finds a thousand miles not longer than one.

Who cares if a crow is male or female?

Who can see in the future?

Where there is laughter happiness likes to be.

Where there is fish, there is water.

Where profit is, loss is hiding nearby.

When you’re dying of thirst it’s too late to dig a well.

When you talk about future happenings the devil starts to laugh.

When you reject gifts from heaven you will be rewarded in hell.

When you have children yourself, you begin to understand what you owe your parents.

When you have a good government the grass will grow over your troubles.

When you do something wholeheartedly, you are not in need of helpers.

When you are polite, the others think they are wearing flowers.

When you are looking upwards you see no frontiers.

When there are two fires in one room, only one will smoke.

When the moon is full, it begins to wane.

When the heat has passed, you forget about the shade of trees.

When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.

When ten thousand soldiers lie rotting, the general’s reputation is enhanced.

When someone offends you, you haven’t given him enough love.

When someone is really hungry, then there is no such thing as “bad food.”

When a girl in the teahouse smiles at you, look the other way.

What is good is not necessarily beautiful.

Wealth gets in the way of wisdom.

We learn little from victory, but a great deal from defeat.

We learn by watching and listening.

We are no more than candles burning in the wind.

Water will always take the form of the vase it fills.

Walls have ears, paper sliding doors have eyes.

Walls have ears, bottles have mouths.

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

Virtue is not knowing but doing.

Virtue carries an empty purse.

Victims of the same disease have a lot to talk about.

Unspoken words are the flowers of silence.

Unless you enter the tiger’s den you cannot take the cubs.

Unhappiness can be a bridge to happiness.

Under a powerful general there are no feeble soldiers.

Two lovers in the rain have no need of an umbrella.

Truthful words are seldom pleasant.

Truth often comes out of a joke.

Transactions in Hell also depend upon money.

Too much politeness is impertinent.

Too much is worse than too little.

Too many hands will row the boat up a mountain.

Tomorrow’s battle is won during today’s practice.

To wait for luck is the same as waiting for death.

To the starving man the beauty of Fujiyama has no meaning.

To teach is to learn.

To receive a favor is to sell one’s liberty.

To know and to act are one and the same.

To endure what is unendurable is true endurance.

To ask is a temporary shame; not to ask, an eternal one.

Time waits for no one.

Time spent laughing is time spent with the Gods.

Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.

Though the blind man cannot see it, light remains light.

Thirty-six plans of how to win the battle are not so good as one plan to withdraw from the fight.

There is no such thing as dirty clothes when it is cold.

There is no such thing as bad food when you are really hungry.

There is no medicine for a fool.

There is no escape from heaven’s web.

There is no coincidence in getting married.

There are old men of three years old and children of a hundred.

There are no national frontiers to learning.

The unscrupulous succeed every time.

The turtle underestimates the value of fast feet.

The tongue is more to be feared than the sword.

The taste of cold water after drinking, is a pleasure that the teetotaler will never know.

The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bends.

The talented hawk hides its claws.

The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.

The spendthrift beats his money as if it were a carpet.

The speaker may well be a fool but the listener is wise.

The sparrow flying behind the hawk thinks the hawk is fleeing.

The smaller the margin, the greater the turnover.

The second word makes the fray.

The sack of longing has no bottom.

The reverse side also has a reverse side.

The prettiest of shoes makes a sorry hat.

The poor have no time to spare.

The plagiarist turns the body inside-out and changes the bones.

The person who admits ignorance shows it once; the one who tries to hide it shows it often.

The pensioner gets the wages of the death.

The path of duty lies in what is near at hand, but men look for it in what is remote.

The past is the future of the present.

The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

The mouth of a man is a terrible opening.

The mouth is the door of evil.

The most beautiful flowers flourish in the shade.

The matchmaker always asks for too much money for his eight hundred lies.

The lotus flower blooms in the mud.

The lazy one stands up between one armchair and another.

The lawyer will extend the frontiers of a fight.

The inarticulate speak longest.

The human heart is neither of stone nor wood.

The hen tells the cock to crow.

The heaviest rains fall on the house that leaks most.

The heart is the most essential human quality.

The head of a monkey, the headdress of a prince.

The hard road turns the traveller into the same dust that he has to swallow.

The guest who seeks special attention muddies the host’s tea.

The goodness of the father reaches higher than a mountain; that of the mother goes deeper than the ocean.

The gods just laugh when men pray to them for wealth.

The go-between wears out a thousand sandals.

The fruit of a tree falls to its root.

The frog in his pond sneers at the ocean.

The fortune-teller never knows his own.

The fast talker makes mistakes.

The eye that is still says more than a chattering mouth.

The dog that wags its tail won’t be beaten.

The dog called “Sorrow,” without eating, will be fat in every house.

The devil was good looking at eighteen.

The day you decide to do it is your lucky day.

The crow that mimics a cormorant gets drowned.

The consequence is the reward of the cause.

The child who died too soon was always beautiful and intelligent.

The character of a man lies not in his body but in his soul.

The caged bird dreams of clouds.

The acolyte at the gate reads scriptures he has never learned.

The absent get further off every day.

Ten men, ten minds.

Suspicion bears dark devils.

Stupidity begins with honesty.

Steal goods and you’ll go to prison, steal lands and you are a king.

Spending it is like pouring water into sand.

Spend words as efficiently as money.

Sorrow is the seed of wealth.

Sometimes it takes only an hour to get a reputation that lasts for a thousand years.

Silent worms dig holes in the walls.

Silence makes irritation grow.

Serve your neighbors as you would be served yourself.

Seeing is poison for the eyes.

Say what you have to say, tomorrow.

Respect old people, and be gentle with children.

Quiet worms will bore a hole in the wall.

Put faith in your own abilities and not in the stars.

Pursue your duties and don’t let them pursue you.

Poor men sleep the best.

Poor is the person who does not know when he has had enough.

He who talks to a silent listener will soon stand naked.

Poets know all about famous places without having been there.

Poetry moves heaven and earth.

Plan your life at New Year’s eve, your day at dawn.

Pick your wife in the kitchen.

People who are asleep can’t fall down.

Pears and women are the sweetest in the parts that are heaviest.

Over-intelligent people can’t find friends.

Only when the coffin is closed will we see how long lasting is the name.

Only through suffering and sorrow do we acquire the wisdom not found in books.

Only he who knows his own weaknesses can endure those of others.

One who eats plain food is healthy.

One moment of intense happiness prolongs life by a thousand years.

One kind word can warm three winter months.

One joy can drive away a hundred sorrows.

One cannot scoop up the ocean with a sea shell.

One can stand still in a flowing stream, but not in a world of men.

Once dead the good and the bad are covered by the same moss.

Once conquered — always a traitor.

Old people are everyone’s treasures.

Old horses don’t forget the way.

Old age cures us of our youth.

Nothing so visible than what you want to hide.

No road is too long in the company of a friend.

No one was ever hurt by laughter.

No one buys what he recommends himself.

Never watch a bonfire wearing a straw coat.

Never trust the advice of a man in difficulty.

Never rely on the glory of the morning or the smiles of your mother-in-law.

Never judge things of which you only know the shadow.

Never admit that there is a tomorrow.

My skirt with tears is always wet: I have forgotten to forget.

More festive than the feast itself is the day before.

Money has no ears but it hears; no legs but it walks.

Money grows on the tree of persistence.

Men and women are never placed too far apart to be near.

Many flowers, few fruits.

Man longs to see that which he is afraid to see.

Man is the instrument of illness.

Making money is like digging with a needle.

Luck is like having a rice dumpling fly into your mouth.

Love without friendship is like a shadow without the sun.

Look for a thrifty woman — even though it may cost you a pair of shoes.

Life? That is a candle in the wind; frost upon a roof; the twitching of the fish in a pan.

Life is the source of all things.

Life is for one generation; a good name is forever.

Life is a long journey with a heavy bag on its back.

Let the past drift away with the water.

Lazy people have no spare time.

Large trees are envied by the wind.

Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.

It’s better to not read at all than to believe everything you read.

The day you decide to do it is your lucky day.

It’s better to lie a little than to be unhappy.

It’s awful, I hate it” is hardly the other side of “That is beautiful and I loved it.”

It is useful to first see the spark before the fire.

It is precisely the uncertainty of this world that makes life worth living.

It is no use cutting a stick when the fight is over.

It is easy to die — the difficulty lies in living.

It is better to write down something once than read it ten times.

It is better to be the head of a chicken than the rear of an ox.

It is better to be ignorant than mistaken.

It is a beggar’s pride that he is not a thief.

Invalids live the longest.

Into the house where joy lives, happiness will gladly come.

Instead of worrying, a strong man wears a smile.

Indifference is a generous kind of intolerance.

In the eyes of a lover a pock-marked face is one with pretty dimples.

In strategy, secrecy is highly regarded.

If you would shoot a general, shoot his horse first.

If you wish to learn the highest truth, begin with the alphabet.

If you wait long enough, it will be good weather.

If you turn into a dog, be sure to choose a rich family.

If you think about things too long, good thoughts will disappear.

If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.

If you respect others, others will respect you.

If you make love in the shade you get cold.

If you love your son, let him travel.

If you have no one else, then confer with your knee.

If you hate a man, let him live.

If you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub.

If you carry treasure, don’t travel at night.

If you believe everything you read, you had better not read.

If you are travelling towards the East, you will inevitably move away from the West.

If you are looking for bad luck, you will soon find it.

If you are in a boat you are more afraid of fire than you are of water.

If you are going to sit on it for three years, the seat will certainly get warm.

If you are going to fall it’s muddy everywhere.

If you are going out for a fight leave your best hat at home.

If you are eager to be in the shadow, leave your axe at home.

If there is a lid that doesn’t fit, then there is a lid that does. To a person that does not wander, there is not enlightenment. Fall seven times, stand up eight.

If the skin of your belly is tight, the skin of your eyelids can sleep.

If the father is a frog, the son will be a frog.

If the blind leads the blind, they both fall into the ditch.

If the bird hadn’t sung, it wouldn’t have been shot.

If one man praises you, a thousand will repeat the praise.

If I peddle salt, it rains; if I peddle flour, the wind blows.

If her works for you, you work for him.

If every day was a sunny day, who would not wish for rain?

I have no sword; I make no mind my sword.

I have no set principles; I make adaptability to all circumstances my principle.

I have no friends; I make my mind my friend.

How good at combing is the bald priest.

Hidden virtues ring like a soft bell.

He who wears a smile instead of worrying is always the strongest.

He who wants what God wants of him will lead a free and happy life.

He who treads the path of love walks a thousand meters as if it were only one.

He who talks to a silent listener will soon stand naked.

He who smells does not know it himself.

He who sits in the shade won’t take an axe to the tree.

He who makes the first bad move always loses the game.

He who knows not when he has enough, is poor.

He who is too servile ruins his back.

He who is desperate will squeeze oil out of a grain of sand.

He who is dependent on others must make friends with the dog.

He who is always right will never get round the world.

He, who insults another, digs two graves.

He who hunts two hares leaves one and loses the other.

He who has gold is served by the devil.

He, who buys useless things, later sells things that he needs.

He who burns his mouth on the soup will blow on a cold fish dish.

He who admits to his ignorance shows it once only; he who tries to hide it shows it frequently.

He is rich who knows when he has enough.

He is poor who does not feel content.

Happiness spring — cleans the heart.

Happiness rarely keeps company with an empty stomach.

Growing rice gives you more than poetry will.

Grief itches but scratching it makes it worse.

Great villainy is often called loyalty.

Great trees are envied by the wind.

Great talents mature late.

Great deeds come from times of shortage.

Good things are never cheap.

Good medicine often has a bitter taste.

Good luck in business is like the froth on an ox’s face.

God lives in an honest heart.

Getting money is like digging with a needle. Spending it is like water soaking into the sand.

Generals conquer, soldiers are killed.

Gain from your opponents without sacrificing your own strength.

Friends are known first in hardships.

Fortune will call at the smiling gate.

Forgiving the unrepentant is like drawing pictures on water.

Fools and knives require good handling.

Flattery is the best persuader of people.

First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; after that the drink takes the man.

Fear blows wind into your sails.

Fall seven times, stand up the eighth.

Faith can move mountains.

Every meeting is the beginning of a good-bye.

Every little yielding to anxiety is a step away from the natural heart of man.

Every fashion goes out of style.

Even when months and days are long, life is short.

Even thinking about sexual pleasure has its roots in greed.

Even the stone you trip on is part of your destiny.

Even in hell you meet relations.

Even if you hide yourself from the world, don’t lose sight of your real nature.

Even a thief takes ten years to learn his trade.

Even a sheet of paper has two sides.

Even a fool knows the glow of gold.

Eggs and promises are easily broken.

Eat before falling in love.

Each day you can admire the moon, the snow and the flowers.

Dumplings are better than flowers.

Drink and sing: the dark night is ahead of us.

Don’t tell others to do what you cannot do.

Don’t take seriously the cat who mourns for a mouse.

Don’t take a golden sword to cut a radish.

Don’t scratch your shoe when it’s your foot that itches.

Don’t call in the doctor after the funeral.

Do not stay too long when the husband is not home.

Do not prophesy to the man who can see further than you can.

Disgrace is like the grain of a tree trunk — time makes it bigger instead of erasing it.

Depend on your walking stick, not on other people.

Deceive the rich and powerful, if you will, but don’t insult them.

Day has its eyes, night has its ears.

Cupidity has no peak.

Control your emotion or it will control you.

Control of mental conduct, not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai.

Consider the facts seven times before you suspect someone.

Conqueror the self and you will conquer the opponent.

Common sense is essential.

Cold tea and cold rice are tolerable; cold looks and cold words aren’t.

Children grow up, with or without parents.

Character can be built on daily routine.

Books are preserved parts of minds.

Boasting begins where wisdom stops.

Better to write down something one time than to read something ten times.

Better to wash an old kimono than borrow a new one.

Better than a banquet somewhere else is a good cup of tea and a bowl of rice at home.

Better go without medicine than call in an unskilled physician.

Better be proficient in one art than a smattered in a thousand.

Beginning is easy — to keep going is hard.

Because of their figure, vain women stay cold.

Bad and good are intertwined like rope.

At the bottom of the lighthouse it is dark.

As soon as stones can swim, leaves will sink.

As soon as a man leaves his house he has seven enemies.

Apply fitting ability in the fitting place.

Apple blossoms are beautiful, but rice dumplings are better.

Any ground is good enough to be buried in.

An idiot is eloquent when he stays silent.

An excess of courtesy is discourtesy.

An ant’s nest could bring down a hill.

An accomplishment sticks to a person.

Alcohol reveals the true heart.

After victory, tighten your helmet chord.

After three years useless things are useful too.

After three years even a disaster can be good for something.

After the fight both parties give each other a good smack.

Affinity is a mysterious thing, but it is spicy!

Advertising is the mother of trade.

Adversity is the foundation of virtue.

Abuse often starts with praise.

Absent friends get further away every day.

A woman has many mouths.

A wild goose may be worth a hundred pieces of gold, but you first have to spend three pieces of gold to buy an arrow.

A three inch tongue — the iron bulwark of politics.

A statement once let loose cannot be caught by four horses.

A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle.

A silent man is the best one to listen to.

A round egg can be made square according to how you cut it; words would be harsh according to how you speak them.

A proposal without patience breaks its own heart.

A powerful man has big ears.

A pig used to dirt turns its nose up at rice.

A monkey makes fun of the red behinds of his fellow monkeys.

A mended lid to a cracked pan.

A man’s heart changes as often as does the autumn sky.

A man who always wears his best kimono has no Sunday clothes.

A man of straw is still a man.

A man in love mistakes a pimple for a dimple.

A man can endure the worst pain — of others.

A lie has no legs but scandalous wings.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

A joke is often the hole through which truth whistles.

A good religion does not need miracles.

A good husband is healthy and absent.

A good cat does not need a collar of gold.

A gilt-edged visiting card often hides an ugly face.

A foolish bird fouls her own nest.

A fog cannot be dispelled by a fan.

A fish gets bigger when it gets away.

A fallen blossom never returns to the branch.

A dying man discovers the honesty with which he was born.

A dead cherry tree will not blossom.

A crying child thrives.

A country can be conquered from the back of a horse but may not be ruled in the same manner.

A centipede, though dead, will not fall.

A borrowed cat catches no mice.

A boat that is not tied up will drift along with the stream.

A beautiful woman is like an axe in one’s life.

A bath refreshes the body, tea refreshes the mind.

The national anthem of Japan


May the reign of the Emperor
continue for a thousand, nay, eight thousand generations
and for the eternity that it takes
for small pebbles to grow into a great rock
and become covered with moss.

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