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 as kotowaza [谚], which, besides proverb, can also mean saying, aphorism, and quotation. Japanese proverbs often do not make 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


毒を食らわば皿まで
Doku wo kurawaba sara made
  • Literally: If you eat poison, eat the plate.
  • 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;
  • Meaning: It means that if you are going to do something dangerous, take a risk, do it completely;

見ぬが花
Minu ga hana
  • Literally: I do not sell is a flower;
  • Meaning: Reality cannot compete with imagination. Sometimes you imagine things without seeing their reality.

案ずるより産むが易し.
Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi
  • Literally: To give 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 no reason, that is the greatest enemy.

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

出る杭は打たれる
Deru kui wa utareru
  • Literally: The nail that sticks up is hammered down;
  • Meaning: If you stand out, you will be subject to criticism;

秋茄子は嫁に食わすな
Akinasu wa yome ni kuwasuna
  • Literally: Do not let your stepdaughter eat your eggplants;
  • Meaning: Don't let yourself be taken advantage of;

 残り物には福がある
Nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru
  • Literally: Sorte exists in the leftovers. / There is a recipe for leftovers;
  • Meaning: You are saving the best for last. Just because something is behind doesn't mean it's bad. It is often used to challenge people and help them 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. Who doesn't risk, doesn't get treats. Nothing is achieved without effort;

さるも木から落ちる
Saru mo ki kara ochiru
  • Literally: The Monkey also falls from the tree
  • Meaning: Even an expert may make a mistake;

 泣いて暮らすも一生、笑って暮らすも一生
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;

 蓼食う虫も好き好き
Tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki
  • Literally: Insects that eat the afternoon(a weed) is also a matter of taste;
  • Meaning: Taste is not discussed;

井の中の蛙大海を知らず
I no naka no kawazu taikai o shirazu
  • Literally: The frog in the well does not know the ocean;
  • Meaning: You only know about something by knowing or experiencing it. Perfect for those who criticize other countries without knowing them.

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

郷に入りては郷に従え
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;

 頭隠して尻隠さず
Atama kakushite, shiri kakusazu
  • Literally: Hide the head but not the tail;
  • Meaning: You solve problems partially. There is no way to escape in a lie;

花よりだんご
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 go eat sweets at the food stalls.

 悪妻は百年の不作
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;

 かえるの子はかえる
Kaeru no ko wa kaeru.
  • Literally: The frog's offspring is a frog;
  • Equivalent: Like father, like son;

覆水盆に帰らず
Fukusui bon ni kaerazu
  • Literally: Spilled water does not return to the bowl.
    Meaning: Nothing will be as it was before. There's no use crying over spilled milk.

 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず
Ni usagi wo ou mono wa ichi usagi wo mo ezu
  • Literally: If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither.
  • Equivalent: He who wants everything has nothing;

継続は力なり
Keizoku wa chikara nari.
  • Literally: Persistence brings power;

猫に小判
Neko ni koban
  • Literally: - Pearl to the cat;
  • Equivalent: Pearls to the pigs;

雨降って地固まる
Ame futte chi katamaru
  • Literally: The rain hardens the earth;
  • Meaning: Adversity makes us stronger. Equivalent: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. What doesn't kill you, strengthens you.

 馬鹿があって力行が引き立つ
Baka ga atte rikkō ga hikitatsu
  • Literally: Power excels when among fools;
  • Meaning: The presence of fools highlights that of the intelligent;

 馬鹿も一芸
Baka mo ichi gei
  • Literally: The fools also have talent;
  • Meaning: Do not underestimate even the donkeys;

 悪に強ければ善にも強
Aku ni tsuyokereba zen ni mo tsuyoshi
  • Literally: The commitment [employee] to do evil is the same that can do good;
  • Meaning: The same perseverance in doing harm can be used to do good. An enemy can become a friend with the same intensity;

金は火で試み人は酒で試む
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;

 相手のない喧嘩はできぬ
Aite no nai kenka wa dekinu
  • Literally: One cannot fight alone;
  • Meaning: When one doesn't want to, two don't fight.

悪事千里をはしる
Akuji senri o hashiru
  • Literally: Evil is fast;
  • Equivalent: The bad news arrives quickly. Gossip too.

 朝起きは七つの得あり
Asaoki wa nanatsu no toku ari
  • Literally: Get up early has seven advantages;
  • Equivalent: God helps those who wake up early.

 明日は明日、今日は今日
Ashita wa ashita, kyo wa kyou
  • Literally: Tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today
  • Meaning: One day at a time. Don't overthink about tomorrow.

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

 一を聞いて十を知る
Ichi o kiite, juu o shiru
  • Literally: Hear once, understand ten times
  • Equivalent: For a good listener, one word is enough;

 家ほどいい所ない
Uchi hodo ii tokoro nai
  • Literally: There is no better place than our home
  • Equivalent: Home Sweet Home

 海のことは漁夫に問え
Umi no koto wa gyofu ni to e
  • Literally: Ask the fisherman about the sea
  • Meaning: ask people about something they master;

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

 男は知恵、女は情け
Otoko wa chie, onna wa nasake
  • Literally: The man has wisdom, the woman, compassion;

Videos about Japanese Proverbs

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

YouTube video
YouTube video

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