16 Japanese Proverbs That’ll Change Your Mindset

Old Japanese painting depicting daily life and Japanese Proverbs

Last updated on April 11th, 2023 at 02:04 am

Proverbs are not only a group of words to memorize; they are a perfect way to learn about other cultures. Especially, Japanese proverbs reflect on the ancient wisdom and culture of the Japanese.

We hear about many proverbs in daily life without knowing where they originated. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard “Fall down seven times; get up eight times,” but did you know that it actually originated from a Japanese proverb?

Probably no. But it’s okay because you’ll learn the most famous Japanese proverbs, all of which have the potential to become your favorite life motto.

If you want to enhance your existing Japanese vocabulary while getting valuable life lessons from Japanese wisdom, here are the most famous and inspiring proverbs of the Japanese language that you should learn!

Page Contents:

Open book with a page with the title The Book of Proverbs

What Is A Proverb?

Proverbs are short and traditional idiomatic phrases, usually including a metaphor or allegory. They are a part of the folklore passed down the generations giving advice based on real-life experiences.

3 Types Of Japanese Proverbs

In Japanese, a proverb is known as ことわざ (kotowaza), and they are divided into three categories:

  • 言い習わし (Iinarawashi)

言い習わし (iinarawashi) represents the concise Japanese sayings. The name is derived from the kanji characters 言 (speech) and 習 (to learn).

  • 四字熟語 (Yojijukugo)

四字熟語 (yojijukugo) represents the four-character idioms meaning these sayings consist of only four kanji characters. The name is derived from the kanji 四字 (shiji), meaning four letters.

These types of sayings are the hardest to understand for Japanese learners since they are formed with only kanji characters and originated from Chinese proverbs.

  • 慣用句 (Kanyouku)

And lastly, 慣用句 (kanyouku) represents the most extended kind of Japanese proverbs.

Two hands cheering with a cup of sake showing the Japanese Proverb that Sake shows true feelings.

Japanese Proverbs About Love

There are many beautiful Japanese proverbs about love, but these are the most commonly used ones.

酒は本心を表す (sake wa honshin wo arawasu)

English Translation: Sake shows true feelings.

It doesn’t matter how hard you try to hide your feelings because all a person’s true feelings come out while drinking. You can also use it for your own good if you can’t find the courage to bare your heart with someone.

異体同心 (itai doushin)

English Translation: Two bodies, same heart.

This is used to describe couples who are real soulmates. This is what love is about; two becoming one, right? I couldn’t come up with a better definition of love.

惚れた病に薬なし (horeta yamai ni kusuri nashi)

English Translation: There’s no medicine for falling in love.

惚れた (horeta) means “to fall in love,” which is an excellent Japanese verb to add to your vocabulary today. The proverb literally means there is no cure for lovesickness, and it’s true. I can only pray to God for those who are lovesick, the worst disease ever.

恋とせきとは隠されぬ (koi to seki to wa kakusarenu)

English Translation: Love and a cough cannot be hidden.

You can hardly suppress a cough, right? Other people immediately realize that you are sick. It’s the same for love; you can’t help falling in love with someone. That special person will understand your feelings sooner or later.

Japanese Seaside reflecting the Japanese Proverb about Life that The water flows.

Japanese Proverbs About Life

Here are some Japanese proverbs that can enlighten you when you feel lost in life because of something that happened in the past.

明日は明日の風が吹く (ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku)

English Translation: The winds of tomorrow will blow tomorrow.

You shouldn’t be worried about your current bad situation because everything changes over time. It also means don’t freak out thinking about your future; stay in the present.

水に流す (mizu-ni-nagasu)

English Translation: The water flows.

This Japanese proverb means to forgive and forget. It has been so long since whatever that unfortunate incident is. Time to move on because life goes on, and it is too short to hate someone.

覆水盆に返らず (fukusui bon ni kaerazu)

English Translation: Spilt water won’t go back into its tray.

The English equivalent of this Japanese proverb is “it is no use crying over spilled milk.” What’s done is done. There is no point in still being mad or sad over something. You should get over it and move on for your own sake.

猫に小判 (neko ni koban)

English Translation: Gold coins to a cat.

This Japanese proverb means giving something valuable to someone who does not appreciate it. The English equivalent would be “casting pearls before swine.”

Japanese monkeys enjoying a hot bath, monkeys are part of a Japanese Proverb about perserverance which says that even monkeys fall from a tree

Japanese Proverbs About Perseverance

Hard-working and perseverance mean a lot in traditional Japanese culture, so as you can guess, numerous Japanese sayings about these topics exist. Here are the ones that the Japanese commonly use.

猿も木から落ちる (saru mo ki kara ochiru)

English Translation: Even monkeys fall from trees.

This is a famous Japanese saying that refers to experts by the “even monkeys” part. If you make a mistake, you shouldn’t beat yourself up; it’s okay because even experts make mistakes sometimes. Remember that nobody is perfect.

七転び八起き (nana korobi ya oki)

English Translation: Fall down seven times but get up eight times.

It is the most famous Japanese proverb with a strong don’t give up message. If you don’t succeed at first, try again.

三日坊主 (mikka bouzu)

English Translation: A monk for three days.

This Japanese proverb refers to someone who is inconsistent or lacks the determination to follow through with something. They are likened to the kind of person who decides to become a monk but quits only three days later.

千里の道も一歩から (senri no michi mo ippo kara)

English Translation: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

This Japanese proverb means that it takes a series of steps to achieve success. For example, mastering the Japanese language is not easy, but you get closer to the advanced level with small daily steps.

Tombstones in a cemetery showing japanese Proverbs about death

Japanese Proverbs About Death

Proverbs about death can be the ones that have the strongest influence on us. Death is a reality, yet nobody knows what kind of experience it is. So, let’s see what these Japanese proverbs tell us about death.

危機一髪 (kiki ippatsu)

English Translation: A close call.

This Japanese proverb means having a close call with death. Have you ever survived an accident? Then you had a close call.

自ら墓穴を掘る (mizukara boketsu wo horu)

English Translation: Dig your own grave.

This is an idiomatic phrase meaning saying something stupid gets you in trouble. The English equivalent would be “to put your foot in your mouth.” In English, we also commonly use the exact same phrase as “to dig your own grave.”

死人に口なし (shinin ni kuchinashi)

English Translation: Dead men tell no tales.

This Japanese proverb refers to someone who’s been killed and hence can’t reveal someone’s secrets. It sounds like a Mafiosa phrase, doesn’t it?

安心して死ねる (anshin shite shineru)

English Translation: Die in peace.

This Japanese saying is used to talk about someone who has passed away at ease. Or you can also use it when your lifelong dream comes true, or a big issue is solved, and you feel so relieved that you can die in peace.

I’m sure that all these beautiful Japanese proverbs will level up your Japanese vocabulary and make you a more confident Japanese speaker.

If you want to learn more Japanese every day at your own pace, why don’t you join millions of happy Ling users learning a new language at home while reading this?

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