Japanese Sayings and Proverbs / Kotowaza


Japanese Sayings and Proverbs/KotowazaJapanese Sayings and Proverbs / Kotowaza


Here is a handy list of Japanese Sayings and other expressions that aren't commonly included in typical textbooks that most students who study Japanese study from. 

Honestly, when you got the basics down it's a good idea to add a bit of flair and color to your spoken Japanese with proverbs. We have tracked down some of the most popular ones and have discarded the ones that have more or less fallen out of use. So if you got the basics down, it's time to turn up the heat with some handy-dandy Japanese sayings.


Throughout the page you will see (x). This simply means as it does in mathematics - a variable. Meaning something, someone or some situation that is not specified or has multiple possible uses.


Some Japanese Sayings Mostly Related to People

下心がある (Shita gokoro ga aru) 
Literally: To have something up your sleeve.
Meaning: Having a secret desire to do something, cloaked intentions.

悪妻は百年の不作。 (Akusai wa hyaku-nen no fusaku)
Literally: A bad wife spells a hundred years of bad harvest.
Meaning: A bad wife is the ruin of her husband.

甘く見る (Amaku miru)
Literally: To think little of something or someone, not to take seriously.
Meaning: To underestimate a persons ability or the seriousness of (x).

ほらを吹く (Hora o fuku)
Literally: To blow a conch shell.
Meaning: To talk big, to exaggerate, brag, talk highly of one's self.

見栄を張る (Mie o haru)
Literally: To be seen, visible and assume a posture.
Meaning: A show off, just for appearances' sake, put up a good front.

白を切る (Shira o kiru)
Liteally: To cut out Innocence.
Meaning: To play innocent, feign ignorance, pretend to be unaware of .  

新米 (Shinmai)
Literally: Aprons worn by servants.
Meaning: To be a beginner, a new hand, to be green or inexperienced.

棚に上げる (Tana ni ageru)
Literally: To put something away on a shelf and not use it.
Meaning: To not acknowledge one's faults, to intentionally ignore them.

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虫が良い (Mushi ga ii)
Literally: Worms / insects in heart.
Meaning: Taking a lot for granted, to consider only one's own wants. 

ぴんからきりまで (Pin kara kiri made)
Literally: The first or best to the last or worst.
Meaning: Covering a wide range of something, the whole gamut .

後の祭り (Ato no matsuri)
Literally: After the festival or missing the festival.
Meaning: It's too late for something, a matter after the fact.

Japanese Sayings / Proverbs That are Business Related

赤字になる (Akaji ni naru)
Literally: To be in the red, or be unprofitable.
Meaning: When expenses exceed earnings or revenue.

話が煮詰まる (Hanashi ga nitsumaru)
Literally: Boil down talk.
Meaning: Narrow down talks, talks winding down, reach a conclusion.

一石二鳥 (killing two birds with one stone)
Literally: Two birds. One stone.
Meaning: Two obtain two objectives in a single action.

火の車 (Hi no kuruma)
Literally: Fire car. Vehicle that takes you to hell.
Meaning: Hardship because of no money, hard up for money.

元も子もない (Moto mo ko mo nai)
Literally:  lose both capital and interest.
Meaning: To have (x) wasted, a total loss of time or effort put into (x).

けりをつける (Keri o tsukeru)
Literally: To settle a matter or some affair.
Meaning: To bring matters to a close, or to wind things up or conclude.

引っ張りだこ (Hippari-dako)
Literally: A person that is much in demand.
Meaning: A person or thing that is in high demand or is sought after.

暇をつぶす (Hima o tsubusu)
Literally: Smashing free time.
Meaning: To kill time, to waste time, to fill up your time with something.

匙を投げる (Saji o nageru)
Literally: Throw away spoon.
Meaning: To give up in despair, to lose all hope of succeeding on (x).

物は試し (Mono wa tameshi)
Liteally: Try something.
Meaning: To give something a shot, to try something out, take a look at.

羽根を伸ばす (Hane o nobasu)
Literally: Spread wings.
Meaning: To kick up one's heals,  to unwind and relax, take it easy.

愚痴をこぼす (Guchi o kobosu)
Literally: Witless, foolish spill from mouth.
Meaning: Grumble, complain without resolution, gripe and criticize. 

極楽とんぼ (Gokuraku tonbo)
Literally: Dragonfly free of worry.
Meaning: Easy going person, happy-go-lucky, worry free person.

五十歩百歩 (Gojuppo-hyappo)
Literally: 50 paces and 100 paces.
Meaning: Makes no difference, six of one half dozen of the other.

Risa Chan Can Teach You a Thing or Two About Japanese Sayings

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