30 awesome Japanese idioms we should start using in English

Many languages have idioms. They share many meanings. idioms inWhile there are many languages out there, every country has its own funny phrases that can be used to convey universal feelings and experiences. Japan is no exception. There are many. idiomsThey have become a staple of daily conversation. Although they may seem strange to American ears, many of them sound great when translated into English. English. Here are some examples 30 JapaneseQuotes and phrases we shouldAll start using.

1. 自業自得

Translation “One’s act, one’s profit”

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What does this mean? Similar to “you reap what you sow.” Everyone eventually faces the consequences of their actions.

2. 十人十色

Translation “Ten men, ten colors”

What does this mean? Similar to “different strokes for different folks.” People have different tastes and preferences — and that’s okay.

3. 起死回生

Translation “Wake from death and return to life”

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What does this mean?You can take a situation that is difficult or in crisis and turn it into something positive.

4. 我田引水

Translation “Pulling water to my own rice paddy”

What does this mean?Do or say something for your own personal benefit.

5. 悪因悪果

Translation “Evil cause, evil effect”

What does this mean? Another iteration of “you reap what you sow.” This one is a tad more specific and almost suggests a karmic outcome.

6. 見ぬが花

Translation “Not seeing is a flower.”

What does this mean?In Japan, flowers are used to express imagination, beauty, politeness, and sometimes even poetry. In this case, the idiom means, “Reality cannot compete with imagination.”

7. 弱肉強食

Translation “The weak are meat; the strong eat.”

What does this mean? This one’s pretty straightforward, meaning something like “survival of the fittest.” Bonus points because it rhymes.

8. 海千山千

Translation “Ocean thousand, mountain thousand”

What does this mean? A reference to the sly old fox, someone who’s seen everything and can therefore handle any situation, usually through cunning.

9. 酔生夢死

Translation “Drunken life, dreamy death”

What does this mean?You can either dream your life away or you can have your head inThe clouds. To be able to spend your day dreaming and not accomplish anything.

10. 一期一会

Translation “One life, one encounter”

What does this mean?Each encounter is unique.in-a-lifetime encounter. Sometimes used as a reminder to cherish every moment because you’ll only experience it once.

11. 異体同心

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Translation “Different body, same mind”

What does this mean? Refers to kindred spirits or like-minded people, somewhat similar to calling someone a “brother from another mother.”

12. 羊頭狗肉

Translation “Sheep head, dog meat”

What does this mean? False advertising, similar to the phrase “crying wine and selling vinegar,” only the JapaneseAn idiom paints an even more graphic picture.

13. 会者定離

Translation “Meeting person always separated”

What does this mean?This is perhaps the most Confucius-esque idiom among the group. It simply means that every meeting should end. inParting.

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14. 美人薄命

Translation “Beautiful person, thin life”

What does this mean? More superstition than anything else, this one really means that a “beautiful woman is destined to die young” but is more analogous to “beauty fades.”

15. 自業自得

Translation “Work of self, obtainment of self”

What does this mean? Similar to “you get what you give,” only the JapaneseVersion sounds more satisfying and relevant to self-improvement.

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16. 虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず。

Translation “If you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub.”

What does this mean? You can’t achieve anything without taking risks, or “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

17. 猿も木から落ちる。

Translation “Even monkeys fall from trees.”

What does this mean? A considerably more hilarious way to say, “Everybody makes mistakes.”

18. 蓼食う虫も好き好き

Translation “There are even bugs that eat knotweed.”

What does this mean? A roundabout way of saying, “There’s no accounting for taste” or “to each his own.” Japanese knotweed is one of the world’s worst invasive species.

19. 蛙の子は蛙。

Translation “Child of a frog is a frog.”

What does this mean? “Like father, like son.” It is similar to the Malagasy proverb, “The child of a rat is a rat.”

20. 覆水盆に帰らず。

Translation “Spilt water will not return to the tray.”

What does this mean? A way of saying, “No use crying over spilled milk,” only water fittingly seems like way less of a significant loss than milk.

21. 知らぬが仏

Translation “Not knowing is Buddha.”

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What does this mean? A more mystical way of saying “Ignorance is bliss.” Bust this one out on the beach or at a party, trust me.

22. 猫に小判

Translation “Gold coins to a cat.”

What does this mean? Same as “pearls before swine,” meaning to give a gift to someone who can’t appreciate it.

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Other idiomatic phrases that don’t relate to anything in English

23. 井の中の蛙大海を知らず。

Translation “A frog in a well does not know the great sea.”

What does this mean?People make judgements based on limited experiences and little knowledge of the world beyond those experiences.

24. 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず。

Translation “One who chases after two hares won’t catch even one.”

What does this mean?You will fail at each of the two tasks you attempt simultaneously. Or, in the words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

25. 門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む。

Translation “An apprentice near a temple will recite the scriptures untaught.”

What does this mean? Like saying, “People are a product of their environment.”

26. 七転び八起き

Translation “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

What does this mean? This one rolls “if at first you don’t succeed” and “perseverance is better than defeat” into one idiom.

27. 案ずるより産むが易し。

Translation “Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it.”

What does this mean? Stressing out about something is usually worse than the thing you’re stressing out about. And it certainly doesn’t help.

28. 馬鹿は死ななきゃ治らない。

Translation “Unless an idiot dies, he won’t be cured.”

What does this mean?This Japanese phrase is a harsh way of saying, “Only death will cure a fool.” Or maybe, “You can’t fix stupid.”

29. 秋茄子は嫁に食わすな。

Translation “Don’t let your daughter-in-law eat your autumn eggplants.”

What does this mean? Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of.

30. 花より団子

Translation “Dumplings rather than flowers.”

What does this mean?This is a term that refers to someone who values substance over style. There’s that use of “flower” again. 30 awesome Japanese idioms we should start using in English

You can find out more about JapaneseYou can find expressions about some of the most beautiful words in world, “Komorebi”, by following this link.

Version of this article: JapaneseAlex Scola published quotes on May 18, 2014. It was last updated by Alex Bresler on October 1, 2019.

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