Art and literature are powerful mediums to immerse oneself in a new culture. Japanese proverbs, in particular, offer a unique glimpse into the moral values that have shaped generations. By looking into these popular quotes, one can gain a deeper understanding of Japanese thought and wisdom. Some of these sayings may seem familiar, while others may provoke a smile or inspire a new perspective on life, love, or the passage of time. By exploring these famous quotes, one can broaden their horizons and appreciate the world in a new light through the lens of Japanese culture.
What are Japanese proverbs called ?
Japanese proverbs , or kotowaza , are real cultural treasures handed down for centuries. They allow us to reflect , to be positive or to raise our wisdom like a spiritual guide. Transmitted orally, these maxims perpetuate a truth or an experience inherited from ancestors. Moreover, some sayings are so popular that they are known in many countries.
In Japan, there are several forms of proverbs:
- Kanyoku is an idiomatic expression whose meaning is not literal . In other words, a statement not to be taken literally
Example:猿も木から落ちる/ saru mo ki kara ochiru “Even the monkey falls from the tree” for “No one is perfect”
- The iinarawashi is a short Japanese quote
Example:案ずるより産むが易し/ “Giving birth is easier than worrying”
Translation: “Fear is greater than danger”
- Yojijukugo inspired by Chinese philosophy is made up of four kanji .
Example:十人十色 ( jūnin toiro )
Literally means “10 people, 10 colors”.
Translation: “Each to his own”
Japanese proverbs about life and death
In the Land of the Rising Sun, the perception of death is totally different from our Western vision. Imbued with Buddhism , the Japanese do not consider death as an end in itself but as the beginning of a new cycle , according to the laws of reincarnation.
jinsei wa fuuzen no tomoshibi
“Life is a candle in the wind”
This Japanese proverb shows how fleeting life is. Precious and fragile, it can go out at any time.
“Human life is a passing dew”
“Death is both larger than a mountain and smaller than a hair.”
Japanese proverbs about love and friendship
In Japan, in friendship as in love, patience and perseverance are required. However, once trust is firmly established, the relationship is much more durable .
Tabi wa michidzure
“No road is long with a friend”
It means that in the company of someone you like, you will not be bored.
Another Japanese quote on the theme of friendship:
“There is no better mirror than a true friend”
Chichi no on ha yama yori mo takaku haha no on ha umi yori mo fukashi
“A father’s love is higher than the mountain. A mother’s love is deeper than the ocean”
This sentence evokes the unconditional love of parents for their children.
Abata mo ekubo
“Love makes you blind”
Interpretation: When you’re in love with someone, you don’t see their faults.
Japanese proverbs about passing time and old age
Japanese culture has a poetic approach to passing time. It celebrates the impermanence of things and the beauty of the present moment in imperfection.
Yo no naka ha mikka minu ma no sakura kana
I wonder if the world has not seen the cherry blossoms for three days. This proverb is a way of saying that time passes at breakneck speed!
Live together in tears, live together in laughter Naite
kurasu mo isshô waratte kurasu mo isshô
Along the same lines, here’s a fun Japanese saying:
“We start to age when we stop learning”
Japanese proverbs about wisdom and patience
If you want to impress those around you with your wisdom, or simply send a strong message, do not hesitate to state these Japanese maxims . Note that patience is a highly valued virtue in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku
“Tomorrow is another day”
There is no point in worrying in advance | Everything is solved with time
“If you’re in a hurry, take a detour”
This sentence may sound strange, but in fact it means that it is safer to take a long and safe path than an unfamiliar shortcut.
“One step a day”
Has the meaning of proceeding step by step, slowly but surely.
Shippai ha seikou no moto
“Failure is the way to success”
To succeed, you must first make mistakes. This is how we learn!
In the same style, we can cite the adage:
“You learn little from victory, but a lot from defeat.”
Inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru
“Happiness smiles on those who act”
By being proactive, we have more chance of getting what we want and being happy.
Fukusui bon ni kaerazu
Literally: Spilt water will not return to the tray.
It’s no use crying over spilt milk. / A separated couple can never go back to as it was.
Ni usagi wo ou mono wa ichi usagi wo mo ezu
Literally: One who chases after two hares won’t catch even one.
Trying to do two things at once will make you fail in both.
Mizu ni nagasu
Literally: let flow in the water
Forgive and forget; water under the bridge
Baka wa shinanakya naoranai
Literally: Unless an idiot dies, he won’t be cured.
Only death will cure a fool. / You can’t fix stupid.
Japanese proverbs about honor and humility
In Japan, we do not laugh at honor as these Japanese proverbs can testify:
“Who cannot live in honor must die in honor”
This is how the samurai saw things in the era of hara-kiri.
Hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi
“Of all flowers, the cherry blossom, of all men, the warrior”
Just as the cherry blossom is the most worthy of flowers, the warrior is the most worthy of men.
Japanese Proverbs about respect
The Japanese are very respectful for others and traditions. They are also very polite in social relations and show respect for their environment .
Go ni itte ha, go ni shitagae
“When you in town, follow the town”
Namely that “Water always takes the shape of a vase”, as the saying goes.
Interpretation: everyone adapts to their environment by submitting to the imposed rules.
Here are some other Japanese quotes related to politeness:
“The mouth is source of all of the misfortunes”
“The one who smiles instead of losing his temper”
“A little of everything and never too much of everything”
Japanese proverbs about willpower, hard work and courage
Among the fundamental values of Japanese culture, the sense of effort and perseverance are at the top level, as its Japanese proverbs can testify.
Nana korobi yaoki
“Seven times down, eight times up”
Even if you fail several times, you become stronger through perseverance
“With all one’s strength”
Expresses that one will do one’s best.
Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu
Literally: If you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. / You can’t do anything without risking something.
Having learned some Japanese proverbs, the next step is to memorize them. When you attend special occasions like weddings or birthdays, why not share your newfound wisdom with your loved ones ? It’s a thoughtful way to express your appreciation for the occasion and to showcase your knowledge of Japanese culture. So don’t hesitate to sprinkle some proverbs into your conversations and make a lasting impression!