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7 Japanese Idioms & Proverbs to Impress

Japanese can be a beautifully poetic language, but many people would agree that it’s one of the hardest to learn by far. But why make things easy on yourself by learning a language that shares a lot in common with English? Japanese is a challenge and that’s what makes learning it so exciting – not to mention impressive. If your friends aren’t impressed by your use of these Japanese idioms, you need new friends.

1. 水に流す- mizu ni nagasu

stream-541707_640Has someone done you wrong? Well, maybe you should remember this phrase – ‘let flow in the water’. Similar to ‘water under the bridge’ this expression is about forgiving and forgetting, instead of holding a grudge.

2. 虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず。- koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu

‘If you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub’ is the literal translation of this saying. The meaning is similar to ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, or ‘no pain, no gain’. It says that if you don’t put in the effort you won’t achieve anything. Good luck catching the cub if the mummy tiger’s there though.

3. 七転び八起き- nana korobi ya oki

We say ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again’, but the Japanese say ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight’. Don’t let anything keep you down and keep getting back up to try again.

4. 猿も木から落ちる。- saru mo ki kara ochiru

This phrase translates as ‘even monkey fall from trees’, which is a nice way of saying that everyone makes mistakes or that nobody’s perfect.

5. 酒は本心を表す- sake-wa honshin-wo arawasu


While it’s wine that reveals truth in Latin languages (in vino veritas), it’s sake that ‘reveals the true heart’ in Japan. Despite being referred to as rice wine, it’s actually made more like a beer, but regardless it still has the same truth-revealing properties.

6. 猫に小判 – neko ni koban

In Japan if someone gives a gift to someone who won’t appreciate it or makes a futile gesture, you can say it’s like ‘gold coins to a cat’. The English equivalent is ‘pearls before swine’, which refers to a Biblical quote: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”

7. 木の実は元へ落つる – kino mi-wa moto-he otsuru

The Japanese equivalent of ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’, they say ‘the fruit of a tree falls to its root’. It means that children become like their parents.

If these expressions have whet your appetite for the Japanese language, try our Japanese level test to see how much you know. Do you know any more sayings that aren’t featured here?