Learn Japanese: 20 Japanese Proverbs & Sayings. Part 1

What’s a language without some sexy, inspirational, motivational proverbs, quotes and sayings about life? Japanese is full of them and in this series, I’m breaking them down word by word.

That way….

  • You learn more Japanese words
  • Master some proverbs, sayings
  • Gain insight into Japanese culture
  • And use them in your Japanese conversations

In the first part, there are 20 proverbs and sayings about life.

They’re famous, passed down from old times and inspirational… and you’re more than welcome to post them on your Facebook or Twitter. 🙂


1) 寄らば大樹の陰  – Yoraba taiju no kage


Meaning: If you take shade, do it under a large tree.

In other words, serve the powerful for your own good.

Key Japanese words:

  • 寄る – Yoru – To drop in, visit
  • 大樹 – Taiju – Large tree
  • 陰 – Kage – Shade, shadow

2) ただより高いものはない – tada yori takai mono wa nai


Meaning: Nothing is more expensive than free.

This refers to all the things that people do for you for free. Those are harder to repay, where as money is easier to repay.

Key Japanese words:

  • ただ – Tada – Free
  • 高い – Takai – Expensive
  • 物 – Mono – Thing

3) 多芸は無芸 – tagei wa mugei


Meaning: Many skills is no skill.

A jack of all trades, but in a bad way. You’re decent at a lot of things, but not a genius in one single skill. Kind of like learning Japanese, Chinese, Russian…and not really being amazingly fluent because you’re spread so far.

Key Japanese words:

  • 多芸 – Tagei – Versatility or talent
  • 無芸 – Mugei – Lacking talent or accomplishments

4) 大器晩成 – Taiki bansei


Meaning: Great talents mature late.

Or you can interpret it as “great men succeed in their later years.” Suck it, Mark Zuckerberg. Just to reinforce that time is the essential to developing amazing skill… and most us young people don’t get that.

Key Japanese words:

  • 大器 – Taiki – Person of great talent
  • 晩成 – Bansei – Late bloomer, late completion

5) 初心忘るべからず – Shoshin wasuru bekarazu


Meaning: Should not forget our original intention.

Thus, can be interpreted as “we shouldn’t forget our beginner’s spirit” when we were so excited. “Yea! Let’s learn Japanese!” More experienced learners tend to lose their excitement that had them motivated, because of all that work they’re doing.

Key Japanese words:

  • 初心 – Shoshin – Original intention, inital resolution
  • 忘る – Wasuru – To forget
  • べからず – Bekarazu – Should/must not

6) 小打も積もれば大木を倒す – Shōda mo tsumoreba taiboku-wo taosu


Meaning: With many little strokes a large tree is felled.

Small consistent actions allow you to reach a greater goal. So, if you keep striking at the tree, every day, non-stop, that tree will eventually fall. (Poor tree :(…)

Key Japanese words:

  • 小 – Shou – Small
  • 打 – comes from the verb – utsu – to hit, but has the reading “da”
  • 積もる – Tsumoru – To pile Up, Accumulate
  • 大木 – Taiboku – Large tree. (Hmm, there’s a different variation of “large tree mentioned above.)
  • 倒す – Taosu – To defeat, to knock down, to bring down

7) 盛年重ねて来らず – Seinen kasanete kitarazu


Meaning: The prime of your life does not come twice.

Essentially, this how you say “YOLO” in Japanese. You’re only young once and youth won’t come back! That is, unless technology finds a way, long after I write this.

Key Japanese words:

  • 盛年 – Seinen – Prime of Life
  • 重ねて – Kasanete – Once more, repeatedly

8) 酒は本心を表す – Sake wa honshin wo arawasu


Meaning: Alcohol (Sake) reveals true feelings.

Alcohol, meaning, sake…as that’s the top alcohol of choice in Japan. And as all things, the Japanese are not invincible to the honest effects of alcohol either.

Key Japanese words:

  • 本心 – Honshin – True feelings
  • 表す– Arawasu – To reveal

9) 女房と畳は新しい方がよい – Nyoubou to tatami ha atarashii hou ga yoi


Meaning: Wives and tatami mats are best when they’re new.

Well, this interpretation is up to you. Marry young, I guess? 🙂

Key Japanese words:

  • 女房 – Nyoubou – Wife
  • 新しい – Atarashii – New

10)  ローマは一日にしてならず – Ro-ma wa ichinichi ni shite narazu


Meaning: Rome wasn’t build in a day.

Did you really need more of an explanation for this? Awesome things aren’t accomplished in a day. Keep striking at that big tree.

Key Japanese words:

  • ローマ – Ro-ma – Rome
  • 一日 – Ichinichi – One Day

11) 鳴く猫はねずみを捕らぬ – Naku neko wa nezumi o toranu


Meaning: A loud (meowing) cat doesn’t get mice.

Meow! Well, this is obvious, isn’t it? Don’t talk about it, do it. Real cats don’t meow about how they’ll catch mice, they stalk them quietly and attack with bloodthirsty fervor!

Key Japanese words:

  • 鳴く – Naku – To make a sound (an all inclusive “to cry/make a sound” for animals – as in, cats meow, dogs bark, birds chirp, etc.)
  • ネズミ – Nezumi – Mouse

12)  七転び八起き – Nanakorobi yaoki


Meaning: Fall seven times, stand up eight.

Oh, you fell while learning Japanese? Well, too bad. Get up again. LinguaJunkie said so. Just some more Japanese inspiration coming your way in the form of a proverb.

Key Japanese words:

  • 転ぶ – Korobu – To fall down
  • 起きる – Okiru – To get up, Rise, Wake up

13)  雨降って地固まる – Ame futte ji katamaru


Meaning: After the rain, the earth hardens

Ground that gets rained on, hardens. In other words, adversity builds character.

Key Japanese words:

  • 雨 – Ame – Rain
  • 降る – To fall, precipitate (only referring to rain or snow)
  • 地 – Ji – Ground, earth
  • 固まる – Katamaru – To harden, to become firm

14)  疑心暗鬼 – Gishin Anki


Meaning: Suspicion will raise bogies.

Once you become suspicious, everything is suspicious. And thus, a doubtful mind creates it’s own devils and sets itself up for failure. Not a good thing.

Key Japanese words:

  • 疑心 – Gishin – Doubt, Suspicion
  • 暗 – The kanji for darkness. Like, 暗い  (Kurai) means dark.
  • 鬼 – Ki – Demon

15)   井の中の蛙大海を知らず – I no naka no kawazu taiki o shirazu


Meaning: A frog in a well does not know the great sea.

Pretty much used for ignorant people that are sitting in their own wells, unaware of the great sea out there. It’s used to encourage someone to get a wider perspective.

Key Japanese words:

  • 井 – I – Well
  • 中 – Naka – Inside
  • 蛙 – Kaeru – Frog
  • 大海 – Taikai – Ocean, large sea

16)  人のふり見てわがふり直せ – Hito no furi mite waga furi naose


Meaning: Watch a person’s behavior and correct your own behavior.

In other words, one man’s fault is another man’s lesson. Watch, observe, and learn.

Key Japanese words:

  • 振り – Furi – Behaviour, appearance
  • 我 – Waga – One’s own, your own
  • 直す – Naosu – To correct, to fix

17)  会うは別れの始め – Au ha wakare no hajime


Meaning: To meet is the beginning of parting

Things constantly change in life. Just a Buddhist observation that as soon as you meet someone, you will soon part with them.

Key Japanese words:

  • 会う – Au – To meet
  • 別れ – Wakare – Parting, separation
  • 始まり – Hajimari – Beginning

18)  忙中閑あり- Bouchuu kan ari


Meaning: In the midst of busyness ,there is free time.

Don’t lie to yourself, you coconut. There IS free time; you’re just operating by hard and fast rules that prevent you from doing so. And ultimately, those rules don’t matter. Take a break. Maybe a nap. Eat a cake. Hell, eat the whole cake, you deserve it.

Key Japanese words:

  • 忙中 – Bouchuu – (in the midst of) Busyness
  • 閑 – Hima – Free time, leisure

19) 千里の道も一歩から – Senri no michi mo ippo kara


Meaning: A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Well, how do you think people learn Japanese? They open the big, grand book that’ll teach them everything, then shut themselves indoors for 5 years and don’t come out ’til they’re ready? No! Everything takes a first, small step. You’re thinking too much.

Take a step!

Key Japanese words:

  • 千里 – Senri – A long distance (journey)
  • 道 – Michi – Way, path, course
  • 一歩 – Ippo – A step

20) 継続は力なり – Keizoku ha chikara nari


Meaning: Perseverance is power.

Just another way of saying – stick with it – brah. A big tree can be felled by a ton of small strikes. Fall seven times, get up eight. Persevere!

Key Japanese words:

  • 継続 – Keizoku – Continuation
  • 力 – Chikara – Power

Now, you tell me.

What are your favorite Japanese proverbs, sayings, idioms, etc? Leave me a comment, I’ll add more and be sure to share this article if you like it.

Read part 2 here.

– The Main Junkie

P.S. I highly recommend this for Japanese learners. If you REALLY want to learn to Japanese with effective lessons by real teachers – Sign up for free at JapanesePod101 (click here) and start learning!


>>Click here to sign up for free & learn Japanese with Audio & Video Lessons!


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4 thoughts on “Learn Japanese: 20 Japanese Proverbs & Sayings. Part 1”

  1. Pingback: Learn Japanese: 50 Japanese Proverbs & Sayings. Part 4 | LinguaJunkie.com

  2. Pingback: Learn Japanese: 40 Japanese Proverbs & Sayings. Part 3 | LinguaJunkie

  3. Pingback: Learn Japanese: 30 Japanese Proverbs & Sayings. Part 2 | LinguaJunkie

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