Japanese Proverbs

Kotowaza (諺, ことわざ), how Japanese proverbs and sayings are called in Japanese, are divided in three categories: popular proverbs (諺, ことわざ, kotowaza), common idiomatic sayings (慣用句, かんようく, kan’youku) and “four-character-idiomatic-compounds” (四字熟語, よじじゅくご, yojijukugo).

Many of them are quite used by Japanese people, and they are very interesting to learn!
Below are some of them!

Popular proverbs (諺, ことわざ, kotowaza)

Reading: Hyaku bun ha ikken ni shikazu
Translation: Listening to something a hundred times and believing in it after seeing it once.
Meaning: It’s easier to understand something if you experience it, rather than being told about it.


Reading: Keizoku wa chikara nari
Translation/Meaning: The continuation becomes strength.
Reading: Neko ni koban
Translation: To give money to a cat.
Meaning: Do nothing for those who can’t value others’ effort.

Reading: Buta ni shinju

Translation: A pearl to a pig.
Meaning: You shouldn’t give something to someone who can’t understand its value.

Reading: Nanakorobi yaoki

Translation: Fall seven times, get up eight.
Meaning: When life gets you down, just get up and continue giving your best.

Reading: Mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru

Translation: Don’t look at evil, don’t listen to the evil, don’t pronounce evil.
Meaning: Don’t make prejudgements, don’t speak ill of others, don’t get into others’ life.
Reading: Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu
Translation: A Buddhist prayer at a horse’s ear.
Meaning: A useless effort.

Reading: Saru mo ki kara ochiru

Translation: Even monkeys fall from trees.
Meaning: Everyone makes mistakes.

Reading: Anzuru yori umu ga yasushi

Translation: Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it.
Meaning: Fear is greater than the danger.

Reading: Deru kui wa utareru.

Translation: The nail that stands out will be hit down.
Meaning: If you stand out, you’ll be facing criticism.
Reading: Iwanu ga hana
Translation: Flowers don’t talk.
Meaning: Some things are not meant to be said. Silence is precious.

Reading: Asu no hyaku yori kyou no go juu

Translation: Better than 100 tomorrow, 50 today.
Meaning: Don’t over-expect future, live today.

Reading: Atama kakushite shiri kakusazu

Translation: Hiding your head, not hiding your buttocks.
Meaning: It’s not worth hiding bad things, as sooner or later they will be exposed.
Reading: Atama soru yori kokoro wo sore
Translation: Before shaving your head, shave your heart.
Meaning: The outer appearance tells nothing about someone’s character. Only the heart does.

Reading: Atama no ue no hae wo oe
Translation: To chase flies above your head.
Meaning: Before watching for others’ flaws, amend your own ones.

Reading: Ama dare ishi wo ugatsu
Translation: Raindrops drill the stone.
Meaning: Even something that seems to have no power, might win even against seemingly powerful opponents.

Reading: Ishi no ue ni san nen
Translation: Three years on the top of a stone
Meaning: You have to sit for a long time on a stone for it to get warm. Work, give your best, but don’t expect results to come in a short time.

Reading: Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu
Translation: If you don’t enter the tiger’s cave, you won’t get its child.
Meaning: To get something, you must take a risk.

Reading: Chousho wa tansho
Translation: Strong points are weak points.
Meaning: Overconfidence leads to careless mistakes.

Reading: Neko wo ou yori sara o hike
Translation: Instead of chasing the cat, pull its dish
Meaning: Attack the root of the problems.

Reading: I no naka no kaeru taikai wo shirazu
Translation: The frog in the well doesn’t know the great ocean.
Meaning: Sometimes we are mentally limited. We must open up our mind to new possibilities.

Reading: Seinen kasanete kitarazu
Translation: Years pilling up won’t come back
Meaning: Youth will only happen once in your life, so make the most of it.

Reading: Iu ha yasuku okonau ha katashi
Translation/Meaning: To speak is easy, but to do is hard.

Reading: Isogaba maware
Translation: If you are in a hurry, go around.
Meaning: It’s better to walk long paths than shortcuts full of obstacles.

Reading: Onna sannin yoreba kashimashii
Translation/Meaning: Three women together means knockabout.

Reading: Ryooyaku kuchi ni nigashi
Translation: A good remedy is bitter.
Meaning: A good advice is often hard to accept. Sometimes the bitter truth is the best remedy.

Reading: Ame ga futte chi katamaru
Translation: Rain falls, soil hardens.
Meaning: After the storm comes the calm.

Reading: Ki no mi wa ki no moto
Translation: The fruit of the tree is the origin of the tree.
Meaning: Everything returns to its origin.

Reading: Akuji senri wo hashiru
Translation: Bad affairs run long distances.
Meaning: Bad news are the first to arrive.

Common idiomatic sayings (慣用句, かんようく, kan’youku)

Reading: Mizu ni nagasu
Translation: Flow in the water.
Meaning: To forgive and to forget.

Reading: Abura wo uru
Translation: Sell the oil.
Meaning: In the middle of something, avoiding others’ attention and take a break.

Four-character-idiomatic-compounds (四字熟語, よじじゅくご, yojijukugo)


Reading: Bishukakou
Translation: Delicious sake, delicious fish.
Meaning: A really delicious treat


Reading: Sessatakuma
Translation: Friendly competition.
Meaning: Competition between friends, where the dispute improves both of them.


Reading: Ishindenshin
Translation: Through the heart, transmit to the heart.
Meaning: Even without speaking, reaching a mutual understanding.


Reading: Sai shoku ken bi
Translation: Talent and color combine.
Meaning: To be very talented and very beautiful.


Reading: Ichi go ichi e
Translation/Meaning: Once-in-a-lifetime chance.


Reading: On ko chi shin
Translation: Seek the past, renew knowledge.
Meaning: Thinking about the past affairs one again can sometimes lead to a new thinking or knowledge.


Reading: Ichi nichi ichi zen
Translation/Meaning: One day, one good deed.
Reading: Juu nin too iro
Translation: 10 people, 10 colors.
Meaning: There are no equal people, everyone is different!

Reading: Akuin akka
Translation: A bad deed brings a bad result.
Meaning: If you do something bad, you’ll have to deal with its bad result.

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