January 31, 2011

Suna o Kamu Yoo "like chewing sand"

Most often used to describe a dull, uninteresting life. It's hard to imagine a more tasteless experience than having to eat(or chew) sand day in and day out. The phrase connotes a dull, bad-tasting, and unhappy life.

January 30, 2011

Sode no Shita " under one's sleeve"

The large sleeve of the Japanese kimono makes for an ideal place to hide or to hand-off money. Today kimonos are seldom worn by Japanese men (and almost never when transacting business), but the phrase sode no shita is still very much in use. It has come to mean primarily some form of bribe.

January 29, 2011

Sashimi no Tsuma " garnish for raw fish"

However attractive, the garnish that accompanies a serving of sashimi is of no significance. Some people may not even notice its presence. Such is the degree of dismissal sashimi no tsuma carries when used in discounting the importance of a person's attendance at a meeting or gathering.

January 28, 2011

Saji o Nageru " to throw away the spoon"

In ancient times the Japanese doctor or pharmacist was expected to concoct a special formula that would cure the patient. The pressure to find the correct mixture of ingredients was so great that many a doctor would hurl the measuring spoon into the air in despair.
Metaphorically, saji o nageru means to give up out of Frustration. Often the phrase is used as an admonishment not to give up.

January 27, 2011

Onaji Kama no Meshi o Kutta " having eaten rice from the same pot"

Eating rice from the same pot is the Japanese equivalent of "breaking bread together." Communal eating establishes a sense of friendship and loyalty among those who literally eat out of the same pot. Most often used in reaffirming a special relationship developed through shared experiences.

January 26, 2011

Noren ni Udeoshi " to push against the entry curtain"

When the noren(curtain with the store name printed on it)is hanging in the doorway of a noodles shop, Japanese restaurant, tea house, or other classically Japanese establishment, the place is "open for business." Since the noren is a hanging cloth, nothing is achieved by pushing one's arm against it. Such is the feeling one experiences when taking an action (through words or deeds) which elicits no response whatsoever.

January 25, 2011

Madogiwa Zoku "the window tribe"

The deeply entrenched seniority system of Japanese companies makes it difficult to rise to a top managerial position except after many years of service. Those who fail to attain a top position never enjoy the luxury of a private office, but they may be given a token reward of a desk next to the window in the large, open space where their juniors are also seated. The term "window tribe" refers to people who have been thus rewarded for their years of service but are out of the day-to-day running of the company.

January 24, 2011

Kusai Mono ni wa Futa o Suru "to cover foul-smelling things"

Offenses to the nose are likely to command immediate attention. But simply to put a lid over the smell is not to make the source of the problem go away. Thus the meaning of a stop-gap or temporary fix.

January 23, 2011

Koshikake " a temporary sitting place"

It's an accepted custom that Japanese women office workers looking for husbands willingly accept menial jobs in corporations. Their position is seen as temporary. Koshikake means a chair, a bench, or a stool; an object upon which one rests briefly. It's easy to see how the phrase would come to mean a stepping stone to the next stage of life(most frequently wife and homemaker).

January 22, 2011

Kooin Ya no GOtoshi " Light and darkness fly like an arrow ".

Koo means " light "; in means, " shadow" or darkness (day and night)- in other words, time. The sentiment behind the phrase is close to " Life is short ".

January 21, 2011

Kataboo o Katsugu " to shoulder one's endof the pole "

In feudal times, palanquin and coffin carriers worked in pairs. The responsibility for lifting and transporting was equally divided. To shoulder one's end of the pole means to hold up one's end of the operation, taking full responsibility for being an equal partner.

January 20, 2011

Juubako no Sumi o [Yooji de ] Tsutsuku " To pick at the corners of a food-serving box [with a toothpick]"

Juubako is a box-shaped container for serving food. After the meal, one or two small pieces of food may remain stuck in the corners. Only an obsessive person would try to remove the left-over particles with a toothpick.

January 19, 2011

Hakoiri Musume " a girl that is kept in a box "

A pre-war palor game featured little wooden figures that were moved around(as in a board game). The figures represented members of a typical family and were kept stored in a box. The idealized musume(daughter) came to symbolize the shy, shltered character of a girl who has never left home(the box). Hakoiri musume refers to an unworldly daughter from a good family.

January 18, 2011

Deru kui wa Utaleru

Commentary offered in explanation for why a gifted individual who may be head and shoulders above the norm is brought down to size by the members of his or her group. Quite literally, the stake that sticks out above the other stakes in a row is brought into line by being pouded down.

January 17, 2011

Chan Pon " Ching - boom"

Chan is the sound of a chime, pon the sound of a hand drum. When played simultaneously the result is a dissonant, jarring sound. Chan-pon is used to mean a result of mixing things together that syould not be mixed, often with unfortunate consequences-whiskey and beer, spaghetti and Japanese miso soup.

January 16, 2011

Baka wa Shinanakya Naoranai "Only death can cure a fool."

A derogatory term used in reference to someone who consistently demonstrates incompetence or poor judgement. Said in moments of exasperation, the phrase suggests an attitude of "I give up; there's no hope for you."

January 15, 2011

Asameshi Mae "before the morning meal"

Meshi literally means cooked rice. The morning's cooked rice(breakfast) is the first source of energy for the day. A task that can be completed even before one's first meal is something requiring almost no effort.

January 14, 2011

Watari ni Fune "a boat to cross on"

Poetically, "when you need to cross the river, luckily you find a boat to take you." The phrase means to "luck out." Used when something fortunate occurs when you need it most. A timely stroke of luck.

January 13, 2011

Sumeba Miyako "Where one lives is the capital city."

Miyako means "the capital," but carries the connotation of the best place, the center of everything, the place to be. This short expression is similar in sentiment to "there's no place like home."

January 12, 2011

Onobori-san "One who journeys to the capital"

San in this phrase is the obligatory honorific that translates simply as "Mr." or "Ms." Nobori refers to heading toward the capital of Japan. With the addition of the honorific prefix o-, the phrase becomes a satirical reference to the stereotypical lack of sophistication of someone who has come from the "sticks".

January 11, 2011

Kusawake "parting the grass"

The phrase conjures up a man parting the tall grass with his hands. Metaphorically it means leading the way, going where no one has gone before, pioneering.

January 10, 2011

Ishibashi o Tataite Wataru "to tap a stone bridge before crossing it"

Even a bridge made of stone(which on the face of it is sturdier than a wooden bridge) needs to be tested before crossing. The English near-equivalent is "look before you leap."

January 09, 2011

Ana ga Attara Hairitai "If there were a hole, I'd want to crawl into it."

Sometimes your embarrassment is so acute you want to disappear completely from the scene. Unfortunately, in most cases you're stuck with braving it out. Yet were there a hole, you'd crawl into it.

January 08, 2011

Sushizume "packed like sushi"

This expression is similar in meaning to "packed like sardines." Sushi,the combination of raw fish with vinegared rice, is popular in Japan and increasingly so in the United States and Europe. Take-out sushi is often bought in little boxes called sushi-ori, in which the sushi pieces are packed tightly.

January 07, 2011

Sannin Yoreba Monju no Chie " Three people together have the wisdom of a Buddha."

Monju is Saint of Wisdom in the Buddhist faith. Similar to "two heads are better than one," the Japanese proverb suggests that even average people, when working in a group, can come up with a great idea.

January 06, 2011

Onna Sannin Yoreba Kashimashii " Where three women gather, there is noisy clamor."

The Chinese character for kashimashii ("clamorous")is made up of three small characters "woman." In Japan it is understood that when two women get together, they tend to talk a lot. When three get together, it becomes really noisy.

January 05, 2011

Ni no Ashi o Fumu "to step twice in the same spot"

To step twice in the same place is not to advance forward. Thus the meaning of hesitation before continuing on a presumed or planned course of action.

January 04, 2011

Nimaijita o Tsukau "to use two tongues"

This expression refers to the practice of "speaking out of both sides of the mouth" -shading the meaning of one's words to appeal to a particular person or group, while as elsewhere, this practice(though common)is considered duplicitous and hypocritical.

January 03, 2011

Juunin Toiro "ten people, ten colors"

Even though there is a large measure of truth to the widespread belief that japanese conform to the group, this often-heard phrase attests to their awareness of the differences in individual tastes.

January 02, 2011

Ishi no Ue ni mo Sannen " sitting on a stone for three years "

Japanese consider it a virtue to out-sit the competition. The common practice of making an investment, even at a loss, with the belief that at return will come in the long run comes from this simple, down-to-earth philosophy. Sitting on a rock for three years requires ontrageous tenacity,but the longer you sit, the more secure you are in your position. And more to the point, you become the master of the situation because you have stuck with it. In fact, the cold "stone" may even seem warm and comfortable after three long years.

January 01, 2011

Hitori Zumoo o Toru " to wrestle a one-man sumo "

Obviously it takes two wrestlers to participate in a sumo match. However enthusiastically one may wrestle with oneself, the actions itself will be incomplete. Therein lies the off-an-one's-own (on a tangent ) meaning of hitori zumoo.