What better way to immerse yourself in a new culture than through art and literature? Reading Japanese proverbs helps to understand the moral values that have driven the archipelago for generations.
In this article, Japan Avenue proposes an immersion in the Japanese way of thinking through popular sayings. Some quotes appear to be obvious while others inspire and make us smile.
Discover the famous sayings on life, love or the passing of time and open yourself to Japanese wisdom to perceive the world differently.
👆 What are Japanese proverbs called ?
Japanese proverbs, or kotowaza, are true cultural treasures that have been handed down for centuries. They allow us to reflect, to be positive or to raise our wisdom kind of like a spiritual guide. Transmitted orally, these maxims perpetuate a truth or an experience inherited from the ancestors. Moreover, some sayings are so popular that they are known in many countries.
In Japan, proverbs come in several forms:
- The kanyoku is an idiomatic expression, a statement not to be taken literally 😉
Example: 猿も木から落ちる / saru mo ki kara ochiru « Even a monkey falls down a tree » as in « 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 »
- The yojijukugo, inspired by Chinese philosophy, is composed of four kanji.
Example: 十人十色 (jūnin toiro)
Literally means « ten people, ten colors ».
Translation: « To each 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. Steeped in Buddhism, the Japanese do not consider death as an end in itself but rather as the beginning of a new cycle, according to the laws of reincarnation.
jinsei wa fuuzen no tomoshibi
« Life is a candle before the wind »
This Japanese proverb shows how ephemeral life is. Precious and fragile, it can be extinguished at any time.
« Human life is a passing dew »
« Duty is heavy as a mountain but Death is lighter than a feather »
❤️ 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 all the more lasting.
Tabi wa michidzure
« On the road you need a companion »
This means that in the company of someone you like, you will never be bored.
Other Japanese quotes on the theme of friendship:
« A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out »
Chichi no on ha yama yori mo takaku haha no on ha umi yori mo fukashi
« What you owe your father is higher than the mountain, what you owe your mother is deeper than the ocean »
This phrase evokes the unconditional love of parents for their children.
Abata mo ekubo
« Love is blind »
This idiom is well known all over the world! Interpretation : When you are in love with someone, you don't see their flaws.
🍂 Japanese proverbs about time passing and aging
With the Wabi-Sabi philosophy, Japanese culture has a poetic approach to the passing of 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
« cherry blossoms after three days of not looking at the world »
This metaphor is a way to express how fast time passes!
Naite kurasu mo isshô waratte kurasu mo isshô
« Life is the same whether we spend it crying or laughing »
In the same register, here is a funny Japanese saying:
« You grow old when you stop learning »
😇 Japanese proverbs about wisdom and patience
If you wish to impress your entourage with your wisdom, or simply to convey a powerful 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's no point in worrying in advance / Everything gets solved with time
« Haste makes waste »
This phrase may sound odd, but it actually means that it is safer to take a long and safe path than a shortcut that you don't know.
« One step each day »
Has the meaning of proceeding step by step, slowly but surely.
Shippai ha seikou no moto
« Failure is a stepping stone to success »
In order to succeed, you have to make mistakes first. That's how we learn!
In the same style, we can quote the adage:
« We learn little from victory, much from defeat ».
Inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru
« Even a dog runs into a pole when walking »
By being proactive, we are more likely to get what we want and be happy.
Some other thought provoking quotes:
« The desire bag has no bottom »
« Learn wisdom from the foolishness of others »
« If you believe everything you read, better not read »
« Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times »
To finish on the topic of wisdom, here is a funny Japanese proverb that will probably appeal to many people!
« Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week »
Well yes... this is what happens when you put everything off until tomorrow!
Japanese proverbs about honor and humility
In Japan, honor is not something to be trifled with, as these Japanese proverbs can attest:
« If you cannot live with honour, you must die with honour »
This is how samurai saw things in the era of hara-kiri.
Hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi
« In flowers the cherry blossom, in men the samurai »
Just as the cherry blossom is the most worthy of flowers, the warrior is the most worthy of men.
🙏 Respect and conformity
Japanese people advocate respect for others and traditions. They are also very polite in social relations and respectful of their environment.
Go ni itte ha, go ni shitagae
« Entering the village, obey the village »
Namely, « Water will always take the form of the vase it fills », according to the saying.
Understand: everyone adapts to their environment by submitting to the imposed rules.
« Flower, bird, wind, moon »
This yojijukugo expresses the love for nature.
Here are some other Japanese quotes related to politeness:
« Misfortune comes from the mouth »
« One who smiles rather than rages is always the stronger »
😓 Japanese proverbs about willpower, hard work and courage
Among the core values of Japanese culture, the sense of effort and perseverance are at the very top level, as its Japanese proverbs can testify.
Nana korobi yaoki
« Fall down seven times, stand up eight »
Even if you fail several times, you become stronger through perseverance.
« With utmost effort »
Expresses the fact that you will do your very best.
Now that we've gone through some Japanese proverbs, all that's left to do is memorize them. If you are attending a wedding or a birthday party, take the opportunity to bring out an age-old saying to the attention of your loved ones!