December 31, 2010

Hito Hata Ageru " to hoist one's own flag "

In feudal times, conquering warriors would raise the flag of their lord on the battle site. Raising the flag in Japan today still symbolize victory, particularly in reference to independent enterpreneurs who succeed in business after starting from scratch.

December 30, 2010

Happo Bijin " a beauty in eight directions "

Happo means eight directions. Bijin literally means a beautiful woman. Aperson who wants to look attractive in eight different directions is a person trying too hard to please everyone, thus revealing a lack of integrity.

December 29, 2010

Chiri mo Tsumoreba Yama to Naru " piled-up specks of dust become a mountain "

This expression teaches the moral that, little by little and bit by bit, one's persistent efforts will lead to achievement. Even the smallest of efforts however trivial they may seem at the time, will contribute toward one's ultimate success.

December 28, 2010

Ushiroyubi o Sasareru Yoo " like having a finger pointed at one's back "

Social control through shame is highly developed in Japan. Japanese are keenly sensitive to being the object of scorn or ostracism. This expression conveys the feeling that everyone is pointing an accusatory finger at one's back for one's shameful conduct.

December 27, 2010

Ushirogami o Hikareru Omoi " a feeling as if one's hair is being pulled back "

A deep feeling of guilt for discarding one option in life in favor of another. Japanese feel a lingering tug of loyalty toward the discarded option. The tug, however, is not at the heart strings but at the hairs at the back of the head.

December 26, 2010

Ude o Migaku "to polish one's arms"

Ude o migaku is most often used in advice to the young, warning them constantly to improve their skills. In Japan discipline and training are considered essential to success in any field.

December 25, 2010

Tsura no Kawa ga Atsui "The skin on one's face is thick."

The ideal face in Japan figuratively has a thin layer of skin so as to respond with sensitivity to others. In contrast, a thick-skinned, un-Japanese face reflects an inability to blush (to show shame), to reveal vulnerability, or to show empathy.

December 24, 2010

Shiroi Me de Miru "to look at someone with white eyes"

This expression means to treat someone with disdain bordering on contempt. This is an especially appropriate phrase when the person is outside of one's group. Why shiroi (white) eyes? One theory is that eyes without pupils would have a cold, ghostly look analogous to a scornful rebuke.

December 23, 2010

Shinzoo ga Tsuyoi "strong -hearted"

Shinzoo ga tsuyoi describes a socially bold, cheeky person. Usually considered a negative trait, the phrase also may refer to having the courage (or gall) to behave against what is normally expected, like an employee who questions his boss, or a student who challenges the teacher.

December 22, 2010

Ryooyaku Kuchi ni Nigashi "Good medicine tastes bitter in the mouth."

Teaches that one cannot expect to hear only good news in life. Sometimes, although painful, it is good medicine to taste the bitter truth. It is implicit in the statement that the speaker "cares enough" to speak with unusual candor.

December 21, 2010

Mimi ga Itai "My ears hurt."

Some say that, despite Japan's economic might, its people are pretty simple. To say "My ear hurt", when words of criticism are hurled one's way, is direct and disarming. It's a way of saying "you got me". Implicit in the phrase is the recognition of wrongdoing.

December 20, 2010

Koshi ga Hikui "low-waisted"

It's probably fair to say that Japanese are preccupied with hierarchies. Status is indicated physically by one's posture in relation to others. To bend a little, to lower one's head, or to bow a deep bow is to position oneself vis-a-vis a person of higher rank. Thus, koshi ga hikui is a complement-especially to one who, by virtue of wealth or fame, has attained high status.

December 19, 2010

Katami ga Semai "narrow shoulders"

When in the presence of others who are superior in some respect, one's feeling of inferiority may be intensified. The physical manifestation of this feeling is a shrinking into oneself. The Japanese picture this reaction as a drawing in of the shoulders.

December 18, 2010

Kao ga Hiroi " wide-faced"

To be established in business or to be respected in society, it is important to be kao ga hiroi. The kao ga hiroi person is often the community leader or the authority figure in the profession. He ro she has many contacts in the community and is expected to perform a paternal or maternal role.

December 17, 2010

Ishin Denshin " reading each other's heart"

Wordless yet total communication between two pepole, as if one heart is in direct contact with the other. Couples who have been married for 50 years may have ishin densin. Co-workers, business associates, and friends are also capable of this harmonious relationship.

December 16, 2010

Haragei "belly performance"

The origin of the word haragei is a drama performed on the belly of a person lying down, or a skit performed with a face painted on one's belly. From this comes the meaning of a theatrical strategy to communicate to others without words. Today haragei is thought of as a nonverbal, intuitive problem-solving technique requiring experience, sensitiviity, and a keen knowledge of others.

December 15, 2010

Awaseru Kao ga Nai " having no face to face someone"

This idiom captures the deep concern japanese have for maintaining face. "Face," of course, means one's positive image, one's public identity and correct behavior wihtin the community. The "having no face" part of the expression can be interpreted as "not knowing what expression to wear," or "not knowing even how to compose one's expression" when having to face someone at a time when one feels deeply ashamed.

December 14, 2010

Atama ga Sagaru " One's head is bowed."

When moved by another's extraordinary effort, one's head, voluntarily or involunatarily lowers in respect. Such is the reaction depicted by atama ga sagaru.

December 13, 2010

Ashi o Arau " to wash one's feet"

Menial, less prestigious jobs often require working outdoors and sometimes even working barefooted. So to wash one's feet figuratively means to give up a lowly job or to rise up from a morally wrong way of life(crime).

December 12, 2010

Ashimoto o Miru " to look at someone's feet"

According to Japanese etymological sources, ashimoto o miru comes from the Feudal Age when the planquin carriers would examine the legs and feet of prospective customers to judge their level of exhaustion, then raise the fare accordingly.

December 11, 2010

Agura o Kaku " to sit crosslegged "

Sitting on the edge of one's chair with both feet firmly planted on the ground shows eagerness, enthusiasm, and spirit of trying hard to succeed. In contrast, a relaxed pose of sitting on a cushion with one's legs crossed means to coast, to rest on one's laurels.

December 10, 2010

Abatamo Ekubo " Pockmarks are (seen as ) dimples."

Abata mo ekubo is another way of saying, " Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." But in this Japanese expression, the beholder is almost always a man who is beholding a woman. Her face may not have physical beauty, but her personality makes her attractive to him.

December 09, 2010

Tade kuu Mushi mo Sukizuki " Some bugs prefer bitters."

This Japanese proverb acknowledges the reality that people have different tastes. Also used to warn people not to judge others by one's own taste. Tade is smartweed, a bitter tasting plant. Yet some insects prefer it.

December 08, 2010

Saba o Yomu " to read the mackerel "

Among fish caught in nets, mackerel are so little valued that Japanese fishermen may not bother to count them. Often the rough estimates of mackerel have been highly inflated, giving rise to the use of the phrase " reading the mackerel " to indicate the practice of " guesstimating " in one's own favor.

December 07, 2010

Nakitsura ni Hachi " The bee(stings) when you're already crying."

When someone has been hit simultaneously with several bad breaks, it may be consoling to hear a friend say, " Nakitsura ni hachi." The philosophical surety of the phrase reminds Japanese that misfortune may indeed come in twos(or even threes).

December 06, 2010

Mushi no Iki " The Breath of an insect "

Since insects are small, imagine how faint their breath must be. The changes of recovery are extremely slim for a man whose breath is as faint as that of an insect.

December 05, 2010

Manaita no Ue no Koi "carp on the cutting board"

This fatalistic expression is used when one feels helpless to control one's immediate destiny. The foreboding overtone comes from the knowledge of what inevitably befalls a fish laid out on a cutting board.

December 04, 2010

Ka no Naku Yoona Koe "a voice like the cry of a mosquito"

Like a mosquito that buzzes in and out of your range, the person's voice is faint and hard to hear.

December 03, 2010

I no Naka no Kawazu[Taikai o Shirazu] "A frog in the well[doesn't know the sea]."

Used to advocate greater travel beyond the Japanese islands, it captures the Japanese sense of awareness of being like a frog in a well. Comfortable as the well may be, it is but a small part of the whole world. Japanese teachers often recite this proverb to encourage their students to progress beyond the circumstances into which they were born.

December 02, 2010

Hippari Dako "a spread-eagled octopus"

This expression originates from the way an octopus is stretched out to dry. All eight legs are spread out and stretched to their limits. Thus, when the pretty young starlet or the renowned architect is suddenly in great demand, the impression is like a hippari dako.

December 01, 2010

Hachi no Su o Tsutsuita Yoo "like poking a beehive"

The impression is that of a swarm of noisy bees buzzing around in a frenzy of confusion. Complete bedlam that one is not happy about.