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)

百聞は一見に如かず
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.


継続は力なり

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

豚に真珠
Reading: Buta ni shinju

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

七転び八起き
Reading: Nanakorobi yaoki

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

見ざる、聞かざる、言わざる
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.
馬の耳に念仏
Reading: Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu
Translation: A Buddhist prayer at a horse’s ear.
Meaning: A useless effort.

猿も木から落ちる
Reading: Saru mo ki kara ochiru

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

案ずるより産むが易し
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.

出る杭は打たれる
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.
言わぬが花
Reading: Iwanu ga hana
Translation: Flowers don’t talk.
Meaning: Some things are not meant to be said. Silence is precious.

明日の百より今日の五十
Reading: Asu no hyaku yori kyou no go juu

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

頭かくして尻かくさず
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.
頭そるより心をそれ
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.

頭の上のはえを追え
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.

雨だれ石をうがつ
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.

石の上に三年
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.

虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず
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.

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

猫を追うより皿を引け
Reading: Neko wo ou yori sara o hike
Translation: Instead of chasing the cat, pull its dish
Meaning: Attack the root of the problems.

井の中の蛙大海を知らず
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.

盛年重ねて来らず
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.

言うはやすく行うはかたし
Reading: Iu ha yasuku okonau ha katashi
Translation/Meaning: To speak is easy, but to do is hard.

急がば回れ
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.

女三人寄れば姦しい
Reading: Onna sannin yoreba kashimashii
Translation/Meaning: Three women together means knockabout.

良薬口に苦し
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.

雨が降って地固まる
Reading: Ame ga futte chi katamaru
Translation: Rain falls, soil hardens.
Meaning: After the storm comes the calm.

木の実は木の本
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.

悪事千里を走る
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)

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

油を売る
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)

美酒佳肴

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

切磋琢磨

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

以心伝心

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

才色兼備

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

一期一会

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

温故知新

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.

一日一善

Reading: Ichi nichi ichi zen
Translation/Meaning: One day, one good deed.
十人十色
Reading: Juu nin too iro
Translation: 10 people, 10 colors.
Meaning: There are no equal people, everyone is different!

悪因悪果
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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