Kotowaza – Short Japanese Proverbs

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In this article, we are going to share a complete list of Japanese proverbs known in Japan as Kotowaza. The famous Ninja phrases, famous for saying little, but speaking the truth. 

The word referring to Proverbs in Japanese is written Kotowaza [谚] which besides proverb, can mean saying, aphorism and quote. Japanese proverbs do not usually make so much sense, because Japanese grammar is very simple.

To understand a Kotowaza, it is necessary to delve into the meaning of the ideograms presented in the sentence. I will try to explain in detail each Japanese proverb and also quote a similar saying in English. 

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List of Japanese Proverbs – Kotowaza 

Doku wo kurawaba sara made
  • Literally: If you eat poison, eat the dish;
  • Note: It doesn't mean you should literally eat the plate, just lick it. 食らわ it is a strong and violent expression to feed on;
  • Meaning: It means that if you are going to do something dangerous, take a risk, do it completely;

Minu ga hana
  • Literally: Not seeing is a flower;
  • Meaning: Reality cannot compete with imagination. Sometimes you imagine things without seeing the reality of it;

Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi
  • Literally: Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it;
  • Meaning: Fear is greater than danger. An attempt is sometimes easier than we expect. Many are afraid for nothing, this is the greatest Enemy;

バカは 死ななきゃ 治らない
Baka wa shinanakya naoranai
  • Literally: Only death cures an idiot;
  • Meaning: There is no cure for stupidity;
Japanese proverbs - list of ninja phrases - kotowaza

Deru kui wa utareru
  • Literally: The nail that sticks up is hammered down;
  • Meaning: If you stand out, you will be subject to criticism;

Akinasu wa yome ni kuwasuna
  • Literally: Don't let your stepdaughter eat your eggplants;
  • Meaning: Don't let yourself be taken advantage of;

Nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru
  • Literally: Luck exists in leftovers. / There's a fortune for leftovers;
  • Meaning: You're saving the best for last. Just because it's backwards doesn't mean it's bad. It is often used to comfort people and help them to strive;

 虎穴に入らずんば 虎子 を 得ず
Koketsu ni irazunba koji o ezu
  • Literally: If you don't enter the tiger's cave, you can't get your cub;
  • Meaning: Take a risk to be successful. Those who do not risk do not snack. Nothing is achieved without effort;

Saru mo ki kara ochiru
  • Literally: The Monkey also falls from the tree
  • Meaning: Even an expert can make mistakes;

Naite kurasu mo issho, waratte kurasu mo issho
  • Literally: Even living life crying, even living life laughing;
  • Meaning: Life is the same whether you are happy or sad;

Tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki
  • Literally: Insects that eat the afternoon(a weed) is also a matter of taste;
  • Meaning: Taste is not discussed;

I no naka no kawazu taikai o shirazu
  • Literally: The well frog does not know the ocean;
  • Meaning: One only knows about something, knowing or experiencing it. Perfect for those who criticize other countries without knowing;

Tonbi ga taka o umu
  • Literally: From a parrot a hawk is born
  • Meaning: Ordinary parents can have extraordinary children.

Gou ni itte wa, gou ni shitagae
  • Literally: When entering the village, obey those who live in it;
  • Meaning: In Japan be Japanese;
  • Equivalent: Dance to the music;

Atama kakushite, shiri kakusazu
  • Literally: Hides the head but does not cover the tail;
  • Meaning: You solve the problems partially. There's no escaping a lie;

Hana yori dango
  • Literally: Before flowers, food;
  • Meaning: Practicality;
  • It makes sense, the person goes to a Hanami festival, and instead of looking at the flowers, they will eat candy at the stalls;

Akusai wa hyaku-nen no fusaku
  • Literally: A bad wife spoils the harvest for a hundred years;
  • Meaning: A man's success depends on his wife;

Kaeru no ko wa kaeru.
  • Literally: The baby frog is a frog;
  • Equivalent: Child of fish, goldfish is;

Fukusui bon ni kaerazu
  • Literally: Spilled water does not return to the bowl.
    Meaning: Nothing will be like before. It's no use crying over spilled milk;

Ni usagi wo ou mono wa ichi usagi wo mo ezu
  • Literally: If you chase two hares, you end up with none;
  • Equivalent: Whoever wants everything has nothing;

Keizoku wa chikara nari.
  • Literally: Perseverance brings power;

Neko ni koban
  • Literally: Pearl to the cat;
  • Equivalent: Pearls to the pigs;

Ame futte chi katamaru
  • Literally: Rain makes the earth hard;
  • Meaning: Adversity makes us strong. Equivalent: What doesn't kill makes you fat. What does not kill, strengthens;

Baka ga atte rikkō ga hikitatsu
  • Literally: Power excels when among fools;
  • Meaning: The presence of fools underscores that of the intelligent;

Baka mo ichi gei
  • Literally: Fools have talent too;
  • Meaning: Don't underestimate even donkeys;

Aku ni tsuyokereba zen ni mo tsuyoshi
  • Literally: The effort [employee] to do evil is the same that can do good;
  • Meaning: The same perseverance in doing evil can be used to do good. A strong enemy can become a friend to the same degree;

Kane wa hi de kokoromi, hito wa sake de kokoromu
  • Literally: Gold is tested by fire, people by alcohol;
  • Meaning: Talks about the superstition that drunkenness reveals the true face of people;

Aite no nai kenka wa dekinu
  • Literally: You can't fight alone;
  • Meaning: When one doesn't want to, two don't fight;

Akuji senri o hashiru
  • Literally: Evil is swift;
  • Equivalent: The bad news is coming soon. Gossip too;

Asaoki wa nanatsu no toku ari
  • Literally: Early morning has seven advantages;
  • Equivalent: The early bird catches the worm;

Ashita wa ashita, kyo wa kyou
  • Literally: Tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today
  • Meaning: One day at a time. Don't think too much about tomorrow;

Abata mo ekubo
  • Literally: Warts/pimples turn into dimples
  • Equivalent: Love is blind

Ichi o kiite, juu o shiru
  • Literally: Hear once, understand ten times
  • Equivalent: For the good connoisseur, one word is enough;

Uchi hodo ii tokoro nai
  • Literally: There is no better place than our home
  • Equivalent: Home Sweet Home

Umi no koto wa gyofu ni to e
  • Literally: Ask the fisherman about the sea
  • Meaning: ask people about something they know about;

Otokogokoro to aki no sora
  • Literally: Man's mind changes like the autumn sky;
  • Meaning: Men are fickle;

Otoko wa chie, onna wa nasake
  • Literally: Man has wisdom, woman compassion;

Videos about Japanese Proverbs

If you liked the proverbs, you can take a look at the great videos below, it has been teaching the pronunciation and explaining more the meaning of some Japanese proverbs.

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