Kotowaza 諺, ことわざ
● a short saying (言い習わし iinarawashi),
● an idiomatic phrase (慣用句 kan'yōku), or
● a four-character idiom (四字熟語 yojijukugo).
The Japanese commonly use proverbs, often citing just the first part of
common phrases for brevity. For example, one might say I no naka no
kawazu (井の中の蛙 a frog in a well?
) to refer to the proverb I no naka no
kawazu, taikai o shirazu (井の中の蛙、大海を知らず a frog in a well cannot
conceive of the ocean?
). Whereas proverbs in English are typically multi-
worded phrases ("kill two birds with one stone"), Japanese yojijyukugo
) borrows from Chinese and compactly conveys the concept in
one word Isseki nichou (一石二鳥 one stone two birds?
Because traditional Japanese culture was tied to agriculture, many
Japanese proverbs are derived from agricultural customs and practices.
Some are from the Go game (e.g., fuseki o utsu 布石を打つ), the tea
ceremony (e.g. ichi go ichi e 一期一会), and Buddhism. Many four-
character idioms are from Chinese philosophy written in Classical
Chinese, in particular "The Analects" by Confucius. (a frog in a well (井
) is Classical Chinese, from Zhuangzi.)
Examples of Japanese
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.
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
Meaning: That's what you get, Just desserts, You reap
what you sow.
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.