November 30, 2010

Gomame no Hagishiri "little fish grinding their teeth"

If sharks were to grind their teeth, it might be a big deal. Shock waves would radiate in all directions. But a bunch of little fish furiously grinding their teeth is of no consequence. Who would know? Who would care?

November 29, 2010

Uma no Hone "the bones of a horse"

Imagine the skeleton of a horse half-buried in the sand. Who knows who the horse was? What of the horse's master? Nobody knows. That's the feeling behind the expression when applied to a newcomer in the tight-knit Japanese society. Uma no hone carries a heavy negative connotation when referring to an outsider.

November 28, 2010

Tsuru no Hitokoe

According to Japanese folklore, cranes live for a thousand years. It seems that old, white-haired village leaders live nearly as long. As the respected authority, the "wise old bird" is able to mobilize the village. Thus, a powerful voice from the acknowledged leader (regardless of age) in tsuru no kitokoe.

November 27, 2010

Tatsu Tori Ato o Nigosazu " Birds leave the water undisturbed."

This is what we should remind people who are about to go into a nature preserve. Used most frequently in reference to one's place of work. Just as birds leave the water undisturbed, we should leave our current place of work undisturbed;i.e., in the best condition for one's replacement.

November 26, 2010

Suzume no Namida " sparrow's tears"

The implication of this expression is "not enough" - one wishes it were more. If sparrows are commonly found throughout Japan and often represent ordinary people in Japanese folktales.

November 25, 2010

Onaji Ana no Mujina " badgers from the same hole"

Japanese fairy tales characterize badgers as sometimes villainous and at other times comical cheaters who play tricks on people. This is based on the fact that badgers and raccoons steal harvested produce from farmers. The phrase suggests a gang/group fo bad guys.

November 24, 2010

Neko no Te mo Karitai " willing to accept even the helping hand of a cat"

This phrase indicates an intense degree of need. Cats are useless when it comes to assisting people. If one will go so far as to accept even the help of a cat, one really is in desperate need.

November 23, 2010

Neko no Hitai " cat's forehead"

Cats are not known to have high foreheads. The expression exaggerates the inaduquacy of a space. Neko no hitai is often heard when prospective home buyers in Japan first see the size of their yard.

November 22, 2010

Neko ni Koban " a gold coin before a cat"

Koban is a small oval-shaped gold coin which cirulated in Japan prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The expression is used when suggesting that not everyone can appreciate an object to the same degree. Similar to " do not cast pearls before swine," it means "don't offer anything of value and merit to those who are incapable of appreciating it."

November 21, 2010

Neko mo Shakushi mo " even cats and rice ladles "

According to oen folk etymology, the rice ladle symbolizes housewives; since cats and housewives are virtually universal to Japanese households, the expression means " everybody. " An opposite interpretation holds cats to be rare and rice ladles to be universal, so that the expression is all-inclusive of both rare and abundant items.

November 20, 2010

Karite Kita Neko no Yoo " like a borrowed cat "

If a cat has a distant and aloof personality even within its own home, imagine how remote it would act in a strange place. The expression describes a shy, timid person who is not at home in his surroundings.

November 19, 2010

Hane o Nobasu " to stretch one's wings "

Away from home or the office, without constraints of position in society or conformity of rank within the Japanese company, one is more free to be adventurous.
Hane o nobasu carries connotations of " sowing a few wild oats " as well as " letting one's hair down."

November 18, 2010

Ashimoto Kara Tori Ga Tatsu " Birds fly up from under one's feet "

What could be more startling than a pheasant or other ground-nesting bird flying up suddenly from in front of you? That's the feeling Japanese experience when a friend or an acquaintance leaves without warming. To be caught unawares.

November 17, 2010

Yakeishi ni Mizu " water on a red-hot stone "

A drop of water thrown on a red-hot stone is of no consequence. Instead of cooling the stone, the drop of water evaporates in an instant. Yakeishi ni mizu expresses a grossly inadequate remedy to a problem.

November 16, 2010

Mizu Shoobai " Water Business "

Running water is not thought of as having a fixed rate of flow. Sometimes the water comes out strong, sometimes weak. Such is the " Fluid " nature of the income levels for certain businesses. Mizu shoobai includes a variety of entertainment businesses - Tea house, entertainment spots, bars, massage parlors, and houses of prostitution.
According to another etymologicak source, these businesses were situated along riverbanks, and thus the " water business."

November 15, 2010

Mizu o Utta Yoo " As if after acattered water "

When performing the Tea Ceremony, it's customary to scatter water along the entrance path. This ritual indicates preparation. The water cleans; it moistens the soil to contain the dust. It also deadens the sound.

November 14, 2010

Mizu no Awa "bubbles on the water"

Stopping by a brook and observing water bubbles forming and disappearing, a Japanese may associate those bubbles with the transient nature of life. Used poetically to acknowledge that a great effort was in vain and now has vanished like bubbles on the water.

November 13, 2010

Mizu ni Nagasu "to set things adrift"

A river carries bad memories away. By setting adrift the pain of a romantic breakup or the betrayal by a once-trusted friend, you start things anew. Once into the river's flow, the thing-to-forget heads downstream, never to return.

November 12, 2010

Neko no Hitai " cat's forehead"

Cats are not known to have high foreheads. The expression exaggerates the inadequacy of a space. Neko no hitai is often heard when prospective home buyers in Japan first see the size of their yard.

Kumo o Tsukamu Yoo "like grasping a cloud"

Since nobody can actually grasp a cloud, the expression denoteds impossibilily. From afar, a cloud has shape and form. Close-up, its gossamer essence dissipates at the touch. So when a not-so-talented sixteen-year-old declares that she's going to become a movie star, you can respond by saying it's a kumo o tsukamu yoona dream-a mild warning that the ambition or goal is highly unlikely to be realized.

November 11, 2010

Kaze no Tayori "message carried on the wind"

A letter delivered from the God of the Wind. Used to suggest news from an unnamed or an easily forgotten source. No direct line of communication exists. This expression compares with "a little birdie told me."

November 10, 2010

Ame Futte Ji Katamaru "Rain firms the ground"

Ame futte ji katamaru is often said to the bride and groom on their wedding day. In addition to meaning that bad experience may actually be good, the expression admonishes young newlyweds that, for better or for worse, the ties that bind are strengthened through tough times.

November 09, 2010

Ame ga Furoo to Yari ga Furoo to "even if rain falls or spears fall"

This expression reflects the firm determination Japanese are expected to have toward achieving their goal. Once the objective is set, after extensive deliberation and consideration, "come hell or high water," the project will be brought to a successful conclusion.

November 08, 2010

Yoraba Taiju no Kage "[Seek shelter in] the shade of a big tree"

Shade is figurative for protection. The tree you choose should be important and highly placed within your organization or in society in general. This expression is close in nuance to "it never hurts to have friends in high places."

November 07, 2010

Uri Futatsu " two halves of a cucumber"

Nature provides ample evidence fo perfect symmetry. Split lengthwise, the two halves of a fruit or vegetable are perfectly identical. When two people are so much alike in appearance, they are uri Futatsu.

November 06, 2010

Take o Watta Yoo " as clean as a split bamboo"

When a bamboo pole is split lengthwise, the cut is true and straight-a clean split. Take o watta yoo describes a reference to a man, but sometimes in reference to a woman.

November 05, 2010

Takane no Hana "flower on a high peak"

Wistfully, a prize you can see but simply cannot reach. The beautiful flower is so far away that there is no real hope of picking it. Used to describe the object of desire which is completely out of reach.

November 04, 2010

Sanshoo wa Kotsubu de mo [Piririto] Karai " Japanese peppers are hot, though small."

Despite the small size of the Japanese pepper, it packs a powerful, spicy punch. The phrase suggests that size isn't the only determinant of strength or ability.

November 03, 2010

Sakura " cherry blosson"

This expression originates from the Edo period. A paid audience hired to applaud and cherr the show was seated in the section of the theater "sakura."

November 02, 2010

Ne mo Ha mo Nai "without roots or leaves"

Roots give support to a tree much as facts give support to claims and allegations. Leaves validate the health of a tree, proving its life and vitality. With neither support(roots) nor evidence(leaves), the (tree) allegation cannot stand.

November 01, 2010

Nemawashi "preparing the roots for transplanting"

Nemawashi now is used worldwide to characterize the consensus-building nature of Japanese business practices.
Literally, nemawashi neans cutting off excess roots and wrapping the remaining roots with a straw mat for protection when transplanting the tree. In business terms it means an informal solicitation of agreement before formal submission of approval at a meeting.