Japanese Wisdom Quotes

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).

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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.

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Presenting some my favorite Japanese wisdom quotes.

The Fallen blossom doesn’t return to the branch. A broken mirror cannot be made to shine.
落花枝に帰らず破鏡再び照らさず 。
Meaning : What’s done is done; “There’s no use crying over spilled milk”

Good medicine is bitter to the mouth.
良薬口に苦し。
Meaning : Advice most needed is the least heeded.

If you look up, there are no limits.
うえをみればかぎりなし 。
Meaning : There is no limit (to ambition, aspirations, expense, or the like).

Even a fool has one talent.
馬鹿も一芸 。
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.
知恵のない知識は愚か者の本の負荷です。
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.
クラゲはエビと踊ることは決してありません 。
Meaning : Enmity is inborn and natural, it can never be eliminated.

If you wish to learn the highest truths, begin with the alphabet.
最高の真実を学びたいなら、アルファベット 。
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.
決して山を登ることはできません。富士、あなたは馬鹿だし、二度以上登ると、あなたは馬鹿だ。
Meaning : Don’t over do it!

To kill a bull by straightening its horns.
角を矯めて牛を殺す 。
Meaning: The remedy is often worse than the disease.

To continue is power.
継続は力なり 。
Meaning : Persevere and never fear.

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A bat in a village without birds.
鳥なき里の蝙蝠 。
Meaning : In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

There are hardships and there are delights.
苦あれば楽あり 。
Meaning : After rain comes fair weather; March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.

Putting the cart before the horse.
本末転倒 。
Meaning : It is important to do things in the right or natural order.

Friends are known first in hardships.
艱難にあって初めて真友を知る 。
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.
虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず 。
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.
彼が崖の端に彼を連れて行っても、各子供が自分の道に従うようにしてください。
Meaning : Choose your path, if it has extremes, there will be learning.

Follow the villagers when you are in the new village.
あなたは新しい村にいるときに村人に従ってください。
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.
10日間は赤いままの花はなく、10年間続く力はありません。
Meaning : Nothing lasts forever.

The slug always leaves a trail to follow.
スラグはいつも続く道を残す。
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.
風が巨大なオークに落ちるかもしれませんが、竹は地面にも曲がって、嵐の通過後直立しま。
Meaning : The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

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Duty knows no family.
義務は家族を知らない。
Meaning : Work is worship.

Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.
行動のないビジョンは白昼夢です。ビジョンのない行動は悪夢です。
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.
難しさはあなたを宝石にします。
Meaning : Experience makes you wiser.

Time spent laughing is time spent with the Gods.
笑って過ごす時間は、神と過ごす時間です。
Meaning : Laughter is bliss.

The strong will protect the weak and, in return, the weak will serve the strong.
強い者は弱者を守り、その代わりに弱い者が強い者に仕えます。
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.
猿も木から落ちる。
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.
1000年の評判は、1時間の行動によって決定されることがあります。
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.
餃子は花よりも優れています。
Meaning : Food is always welcome.

He who would go a hundred miles should consider ninety-nine as halfway.
100マイル走る者は、90点を半分と考えるべきです。
Meaning : Mission is not success unless complete.

The head of a dragon, the tail of a snake.
ドラゴンの頭、ヘビの尾。
Meaning : The beginning is grand, like a dragons head, great and majestic but the ending is like a snakes tail, tiny and pathetic.

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Work the fields on a fine day, study on a rainy day.
晴れた日に畑を耕し、雨の日に勉強しましょう。
Meaning : Never be idle.

Every worm to his taste.
すべてのワームは彼の好みに。
Meaning : Everyone has their own tastes; “Different strokes for different folks”.

Fall seven times, stand up eight.
7回落ち、8回立ち上がる。
Meaning : Experience makes you wiser.

The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.
突き刺さった爪は打ち下ろされます。
Meaning : It’s hard to be different, and that any deviance is met with resistance.

A berry falls to (its tree’s) roots.
木の実は元へ落つる
Meaning : Children observe daily and — in their behavior — often follow the example of their parents.

The talented hawk hides its claws.
能ある鷹は爪を隠す
Meaning : One should hide his best abilities until time comes to show them.

With many little strokes a large tree is felled.
小打も積もれば大木を倒す
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.
立つ鳥跡を濁さず
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.
この父にしてこの子あり .
Meaning : Like father, like son.

Sake [in other words alcohol], reveals the true heart.
酒は本心を表す
Meaning : Alcohol consumed removes the inhibition against telling the truth that occasionally one would like to keep secret.

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Hope you enjoyed reading the quotes just as much as I in presenting them to you.

Tashi Delek!

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