A Japanese proverb (諺, ことわざ kotowaza?) may take the form of:
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).
Although “proverb” and “saying” are practically synonymous, the same cannot be said about “idiomatic phrase” and “four-character idiom”.
Not all kan’yōku and yojijukugo are proverbial. For instance, the kan’yōku 狐の嫁入り kitsune no yomeiri (Literally: a fox’s wedding. Meaning: a sun-shower) and the yojijukugo 小春日和 koharubiyori (Literally: small spring weather. Meaning: Indian summer – warm spring-like weather in early winter) are not proverbs.
To be considered a proverb, a word or phrase must express a common truth or wisdom; it cannot be a mere noun.
Proverbs and old sayings reveal many aspects about the cultural traditions of a society. Proverbs originated from common folk who handed down their wise old sayings over the centuries, generation to generation.
Many proverbs serve as cautionary tales, wise counsel and occasionally are humorous.
Presenting some my favorite Japanese wisdom quotes.
The Fallen blossom doesn’t return to the branch. A broken mirror cannot be made to shine.
Meaning : What’s done is done; “There’s no use crying over spilled milk”
Good medicine is bitter to the mouth.
Meaning : Advice most needed is the least heeded.
If you look up, there are no limits.
Meaning : There is no limit (to ambition, aspirations, expense, or the like).
Even a fool has one talent.
Meaning: Even a fool may be good at something (I can’t think of another way of putting this!).
Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on fools back.
Meaning : To know is not to be wise. There is no fool as great as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.
The jellyfish never dances with the shrimp.
Meaning : Enmity is inborn and natural, it can never be eliminated.
If you wish to learn the highest truths, begin with the alphabet.
Meaning : Begin with the basic.
If you never climb Mt. Fuji, you’re a fool, and if you climb it more than once, you’re a crazy fool.
Meaning : Don’t over do it!
To kill a bull by straightening its horns.
Meaning: The remedy is often worse than the disease.
To continue is power.
Meaning : Persevere and never fear.
A bat in a village without birds.
Meaning : In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
There are hardships and there are delights.
Meaning : After rain comes fair weather; March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.
Putting the cart before the horse.
Meaning : It is important to do things in the right or natural order.
Friends are known first in hardships.
Meaning : A friend is known in adversity, like gold is known in fire; A friend in need is a friend indeed.
If you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub.
Meaning : Nothing can be achieved without effort, suffering or hardship.
Let each child follow his own path even if it takes him to the edge of a cliff.
Meaning : Choose your path, if it has extremes, there will be learning.
Follow the villagers when you are in the new village.
Meaning : When in Japan, do as the Japanese.
There is no flower that remains red for ten days, and no power that lasts for ten years.
Meaning : Nothing lasts forever.
The slug always leaves a trail to follow.
Meaning : You leave behind your impression.
The winds may fell the massive oak, but bamboo, bent even to the ground, will spring upright after the passage of the storm.
Meaning : The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Duty knows no family.
Meaning : Work is worship.
Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.
Meaning : With your vision, develop a plan or roadmap of what steps will be necessary to achieve that end result.
Difficulties make you a jewel.
Meaning : Experience makes you wiser.
Time spent laughing is time spent with the Gods.
Meaning : Laughter is bliss.
The strong will protect the weak and, in return, the weak will serve the strong.
Meaning : Those who are strong will protect those who are not and they in turn will serve the strong, mutual give and take.
Even monkeys fall from trees.
Meaning: Even an expert can make mistakes; also sometimes used as a warning that “pride comes before a fall”.
The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.
Meaning : You can build and build a reputation (for a long time, this saying a thousand years) and your reputation can be destroyed in a measly hour.
Dumplings are better than flowers.
Meaning : Food is always welcome.
He who would go a hundred miles should consider ninety-nine as halfway.
Meaning : Mission is not success unless complete.
The head of a dragon, the tail of a snake.
Meaning : The beginning is grand, like a dragons head, great and majestic but the ending is like a snakes tail, tiny and pathetic.
Work the fields on a fine day, study on a rainy day.
Meaning : Never be idle.
Every worm to his taste.
Meaning : Everyone has their own tastes; “Different strokes for different folks”.
Fall seven times, stand up eight.
Meaning : Experience makes you wiser.
The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.
Meaning : It’s hard to be different, and that any deviance is met with resistance.
A berry falls to (its tree’s) roots.
Meaning : Children observe daily and — in their behavior — often follow the example of their parents.
The talented hawk hides its claws.
Meaning : One should hide his best abilities until time comes to show them.
With many little strokes a large tree is felled.
Meaning : A difficult task, e. g. removing a person/group from a strong position, or changing established ideas cannot be done quickly. It can be achieved gradually, by small steps, a little at a time.
A leaving bird does not leave a mess.
Meaning : It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest; Don’t wash your dirty linen in public.
With such father there is such a child.
Meaning : Like father, like son.
Sake [in other words alcohol], reveals the true heart.
Meaning : Alcohol consumed removes the inhibition against telling the truth that occasionally one would like to keep secret.
Hope you enjoyed reading the quotes just as much as I in presenting them to you.