10 Japanese Proverbs You Should Learn

10 Japanese Proverbs You Should Learn

Studying a second or third language comes with its challenges, especially if you have no idea where to begin. You will be wondering how to converse with your acquaintances or friends. If the language is entirely new, you will sometimes be cautious about making mistakes. So, what is the best way to start? The answer: start with learning proverbs.

Proverbs are expressions that are used in specific contexts and have a certain meaning. They can be used to explain certain situations or just to make a point. Since Japan is a country rich in culture and tradition, it would be best for you to learn some of the proverbs and idiomatic expressions commonly used in the country. This will give you an insight into the Japanese psyche, and it might also help you in your language studies.

This article will focus on ten popular Japanese sayings and what they mean.

相手のない喧嘩はできない (aite no nai kenka wa dekinai)

English Translation: “You can’t fight without an opponent.”

This Japanese saying means that you cannot have an argument or fight without someone to argue or fight with. It is used to describe a situation where two people are not fighting and are often used to warn someone about doing something reckless.

A lot of Japanese people avoid conflicts, so this Japanese saying is often used to prevent arguments from happening.

七転び八起き (nana korobi ya oki)

English Translation: “When you fall seven times, you get up at eight.”

There may come a time when you feel like giving up on your studies or on a project that you are working on. This is the Japanese equivalent of “Don’t give up, don’t give in.” This Japanese saying is often recited to children to encourage them never to give up and always try their best. It encourages people to keep going, even when the going gets tough.

井の中の蛙大海を知らず (I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu)

English Translation: “A frog in the well does not know the ocean.”

This Japanese proverb means you should not look at situations from their face value. Go beyond that and widen your imagination. If you use a narrow-minded approach, you will not experience the world beyond your cocoon. It applies to people who do not want to focus on other opportunities and venture out to the unknown.

When conversing, try integrating that expression to add depth to your speech.

言わぬが花 (Iwanu Ga Hana)

English Translation: “Silence is golden.”

You don’t always have to talk or give your opinions. Maintain your silence when you have nothing significant to contribute. Being too mouthy could lead you into trouble.

While attending your Japanese class in Singapore, interact with your peers but avoid useless gossip that will not add any value to your studies.

能ある鷹は爪を隠す (Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu)

English Translation: “The adept hawk hides its claws.”

To make you understand the expression in simple language, it means a hawk that wants to pounce does not display its prowess to the targeted prey. It will wait for the right moment to make a move. The Japanese use the expression to remind them of the importance of remaining humble.

Do not show off no matter how much of a guru you are in your field. A skillful person does not need to brag about their achievements. The results will speak for you.

猿 も 木 から 落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru)

English Translation: “Even monkeys fall from trees.”

Monkeys are known for their deft excellence in climbing trees. They can climb even the tallest of trees, no matter how daunting it might look. They find comfort in jumping from one tree to another since they are their natural habitats.

However, even a monkey makes mistakes. Even monkeys fall from trees but that’s a normal occurrence. Use this expression with your native friends and remind them no one is perfect and human beings are bound to make errors.

二兎 を 追う 者 は 一 兎 を も 得 ず (Nito o oumono wa itto o mo ezu)

English Translation: “He who runs after two hares will catch neither.”

This expression is used to warn people who are greedy or want to focus on too many things simultaneously. It is often difficult to achieve success if you are not focused on what you are trying to do.

The Japanese people often use the saying to tell their children that they should only concentrate on one activity and not try to do too many things simultaneously. This will lead to failure in all of them.

If you enroll for your Skillsfuture Japanese lessons, direct all your energy there before enrolling for something else. Dedication to one thing is better than chasing two aspirations.

悪銭身に付かず (Akusen mi ni tsukazu)

English Translation: “Easy come, easy go.”

The Japanese are honest and like transacting in the right way. They avoid shoddy deals. If you don’t be careful, you might end up losing everything that you have earned. The Japanese proverb means that it is easy to make money, but it is also easy to lose it.

Use this Japanese proverb wisely and learn from the mistakes of others. When you meet your friends, use the idiom to caution them about greed or the desire to cut corners.

負けるが勝ち (makeru ga kachi)

English Translation: “There is victory in losing.”

This may sound quite paradoxical for a migrant or someone who does not understand Japanese. However, it simply means you do not have to win every battle. Walking away from a fight is smart and a wise decision. If you argue with your friends over something foolish, throw in the idiom and forget about the argument.

自業自得 (Jigou jitoku)

English Translation: “What goes around comes around.”

Relating to people in the right manner is an essential component of peaceful coexistence. Treat people in the same manner you would wish them to treat you. You wouldn’t want to be disrespected, so do not disrespect others. The Japanese use this proverb to teach their children the importance of good deeds.

Many proverbs in the Japanese language can help you while interacting with your classmates or friends. While these ten famous Japanese proverbs are essential, it is best to explore the language and find other proverbs that can help you in your day-to-day life. Here are more Japanese proverbs for you to learn and use:

  • 覆水盆に返らず (Fukusui bon ni kaerazu) – This proverb means that it’s no use crying over spilt milk or spilt water.
  • 猫に小判 (Neko ni koban) – This proverb means giving gold coins to a cat.
  • 花より団子(Hana yori dango) – Which means dumplings over flowers meaning the person prefers practical things.
  • 虎穴 に 入 ら ず ん ば 虎子 を 得 ず (Koketsu ni hairazunba koji o ezu) – Which means not entering a tiger’s cave means you won’t get its cub.
  • 蛙の子は蛙 (Kaeru no ko wa kaeru) – Which means the child of a frog is a frog, or it basically means “like father like son.”
  • 蓼食う虫も好き好き (Tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki) – Which means some insects like to eat knotweed and some may not want to eat knotweed.
  • 知 ら ぬ が 仏 (Shiranu ga hotoke) – 知 ら ぬ が 仏 means ignorance is bliss.
  • 豚に真珠 (Buta ni shinju) – Which means a pearl to a pig.

Once you enroll in your Japanese course in Singapore, you will learn Japanese expressions that you can use in your conversations.

Importance of Knowing a Japanese Proverb

When you know a proverb in another language, it gives you an idea about the culture of the people who use that language. It is not just about words and their meanings, but also the values and beliefs of the people who use that language.

So, when you know a few proverbs in Japanese, it gives you a glimpse into Japanese culture.


Proverbs are an integral part of the Japanese language and culture. They are used to teach children important values and also to provide guidance in difficult situations.

When you learn Japanese proverbs, you learn about the Japanese culture and get to know the people better. The next time you converse with your friends or classmates, use one or more of these proverbs and see how it enriches your discussion.

If you are a beginner in Japanese, start by learning these ten famous Japanese proverbs. They will help you in your interactions with people and also teach you about the culture and values of the Japanese people. Once you master them, move on to learning more proverbs and expressions to make your conversations more interesting. Remember, practice makes perfect!


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