Japanese Proverbs: Interesting ways to learn the language and culture

Besides learning kanji from apps and practicing speaking Japanese, knowing inspiring Japanese proverbs is a great way to speed up your study process. You’ll be exposed to new vocabulary—and maybe even gain valuable wisdom.

Japanese proverbs paint a picture of different situations. They reflect Japanese culture and hundreds of years of history. They are interesting to read and unlock a part of Japan you wouldn’t know.

Studying proverbs helps you to learn more about different cultures. In Japanese, proverbs are known as ことわざ (kotowaza).

Here are 30 Inspiring Japanese proverbs that will inspire you to improve your life. We have included example sentences as well so you can understand how to use these sayings!

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Types of Japanese Proverbs

Like anywhere else, there’s not one type of proverb in Japan. However, Japanese proverbs are boxed into three types, each heavy in history, culture, and traditional values.

1. Iinarawashi (言い習わし)

Iinarawashi is a short saying derived from the kanji 言 (say, speech) and 習 (learn).

2. Yojijukugo (四字熟語)

True to its name (四字 meaning four letters), yojijukugo idioms consist of four kanji characters. A lot of Japanese proverbs are taken from Chinese proverbs. Because this particular type uses kanji, it can be hard for beginners to remember them.

3. Kanyouku (慣用句 )

You can think of kanyouku as the longest type of Japanese proverb.

1. 自業自得 -じごうじとく

jigoujito proverb

Pronunciation: jigoujitoku

Translation: “One’s act, one’s profit”

Meaning: You had it coming, or you reap what you sow.

Example Sentence:

  • ばっかりついてるから総すかんを食う自業自得よ。

You’re always lying, which is why people don’t take you seriously. You get what you deserve.

2.  虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず

japanese proverb koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu

Pronunciation: koketsu ni irazunba koji o ezu

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

Meaning: You can’t do anything without risking something / Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Example Sentence:

  • 諺にもある通り虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ずだ。

As the saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

3. 猿も木から落ちる

 Saru mo ki kara ochiru

Pronunciation: Saru mo ki kara ochiru

Translation: “Even monkeys fall from trees”

Meaning: Even skilled experts can make a mistake / Nobody’s Perfect

Example Sentence:

  • 諺にも猿も木から落ちるというけど、あんなに頭のいい国語の先生が、字を間違えたな んて信じられない。

As they say, “Even monkeys fall from trees,” but it is hard to believe that such a brilliant Japanese teacher would mess up such a character.

4. 光陰矢の如し

kōin ya no gotoshi

Pronunciation: kouin ya no gotoshi

Translation: “Time flies like an arrow.”

Meaning: Life is short / Time and tide wait for no man

Example Sentence:

  • 人々が光陰矢の如しと言うのをよく耳にする。

We often hear people say that time flies.

5. 覆水盆に返らず

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: fukusui bon ni kaerazu

Translation: “Spilt water won’t go back into its tray”

Meaning: What’s done is done / It is no use crying over spilled milk

Example Sentence:

  • 諺に、覆水盆に返らずと言う。

The proverb says that what is done cannot be undone.

6. 明日は明日の風が吹く

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku

Translation: “The winds of tomorrow will blow tomorrow”

Meaning: Do not be worried about your bad situation because things change over time

Example Sentence:

  • 今日は今日の風が吹き、明日は明日の風が吹く

Tomorrow is another day.

7. 七転び八起き

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: nana korobi ya oki

Translation: “Fall down seven times but get up eight times”

Meaning: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again / Don’t give up

Example Sentence:

  • 人生は七転び八起き。転んでもまた立ち上がる。くじけずに前を向いて歩いていこう。

Tomorrow is another day. Even if you fall down, you will get up again. Don’t be discouraged, just keep walking forward.

8. 清水の舞台から飛び降りる

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: nanakiyomizuno-butaikara-tobioriru

Translation: “Take a leap from the stage of Kiyomizu”

Meaning: Make a resolution/ To take the plunge

Example Sentence:

  • 清水の舞台から飛び降りる気持ちでダイヤの指輪を買った

I am going to take a big chance buying a diamond ring.

9. 雨降って地固まる

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: ame futte ji katamaru

Translation: “After a storm comes a calm”

Meaning: Adversity strengthens the foundations / A relationship often gets closer after a quarrel.

Example Sentence:

  • いろいろトラブルもあったけど、雨降って地固まるってことになってほしいね。

We’ve been through a rough patch but I hope it will have made us stronger.

10. 三人寄れば文殊の知恵

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: sannin yoreba monju no chie

Translation: “When three people meet, wisdom is exchanged”

Meaning: The more people you have, the more ideas you will get through the discussion (same as “Two heads are better than one”).

Example Sentence:

  • 三人寄れば文殊の知恵って言うだろ。みんなで考えれば、いい案が浮かぶかもしれないよ。

Let’s all think on this together and we might be able to come up with some good ideas. They say two heads are better than one.

11. 因果応報 

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: ingaouhou

Translation: “Cause brings result”

Meaning: What goes around comes around

Example Sentence:

  • 彼は昔ひどいイジメっ子だったので、今は困った時に助けてくれる本当の友達がいない。因果応報だね。

He does not have real friends now to help when he’s in trouble because he was a terrible bully in the past. It is “what goes around comes around.

12. 同じ釜の飯を食う

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: onajikama no meshi o kuu

Translation: “Eating from the same rice pot” 

Meaning: Strengthening the sense of belonging by eating the same meals

Example Sentence:

  • たかしとケンタは同じ釜の飯を食った仲だ。

Takashi and Kenta have a very close friendship.

13. 猫に小判

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: neko ni koban.

Translation: “Gold coins to a cat” 

Meaning: Don’t offer things to those who are incapable of appreciating them.

Example Sentence:

  • 宝石に興味のない人にダイヤモンドをあげても、猫に小判

For someone who has no interest in precious stones, even giving that person a diamond would be casting pearls before swine.

14. 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: nito o oumono wa itto mo ezu

Translation: “One who chases after 2 rabbits will not even catch one” 

Meaning: You cannot do two things successfully at the same time.

Example Sentence:

  • 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ずだよ。一つずつ着実にやり遂げよう!

It says, “Those who chase after two rabbits will not even catch one.” Let’s steadily accomplish one thing at a time!

15. 人のふり見てわがふり直せ

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: hito no furi mite waga furi naose

Translation: “One man’s fault is another’s lesson” 

Meaning: See other’s behavior and correct yours.

Example Sentence:

  • 友達の言動を批判する暇があったら、人のふり見てわがふり直せだよ

If you have time to criticize the behavior of your friend, watch his behavior and correct your own behavior.

16. 花より団子

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: hana yori dango

Translation: “Dumplings over flowers” 

Meaning: People are more interested in the practical than the aesthetic

Example Sentence:

  • 我が家は花より団子なので、桜の名所よりおいしい店の方がいいんです

Because our house is a “dumpling over flowers”, it’s more of a delicious restaurant than a place for sakura viewing.

17. 口は災いの元

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: kuchi wa wazawai no moto

Translation: “The mouth is the origin of disasters.” 

Meaning: Careless remarks will invite trouble for yourself, so watch your mouth.

Example Sentence:

  • 人の悪口を言うと良いことないよ。口は災いの元だよ!

There’s nothing good about talking ill of someone. It says, “Out of the mouth comes evil!”

18. 初心忘るべからず 

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: shoshin wasuru bekarazu

Translation: “Don’t forget our original intention.” 

Meaning:  Never forget the original enthusiasm when you try new things

Example Sentence:

  • 一度成功しても、初心忘るべからずで、気を抜かないように

As it says, “Don’t forget beginner’s spirit,” don’t lose focus even if you once succeeded.

19. 縁の下の力持ち

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: en no shita no chikaramochi

Translation: “The strong person under the veranda.” 

Meaning:  Unsung hero / Someone who does a thankless task

Example Sentence:

  • 彼は縁の下の力持ち

He is an unsung hero.

20. ちりも積もれば山となる

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru

Translation: “Even dust, when piled up, can become a mountain.” 

Meaning:  Many a little makes a mickle / Just small effort does make a difference

Example Sentence:

  • ちりも積もれば、山となるというからね。

As they say, even dust when piled up becomes a mountain.

21. 魚心あれば水心

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: uogokoroareba mizugokoro

Translation: “If a fish cares for water, the water will care for the fish.” 

Meaning:  If you do a favor for somebody, you will get a favor in return /  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours

Example Sentence:

  • 魚心あれば水心あると言う通り、陽気な男の人があっと言う間に近所の人と仲良くなった

As it is said, if the fish has a heart, the water will also have a heart. Thus the cheerful man was on good terms with the neighbors in the blink of an eye.

22. 灯台下暗し

Pronunciation: toudai moto kurashi

Translation: “The darkness at the foot of the light fixture.” 

Meaning: It’s hard to see what is under your nose.

Example Sentence:

  • 会社の金を盗んだのは社長の秘書だった。まさに灯台下暗しだ

It was the president’s secretary who stole the company’s money. It’s hard to see what’s under their nose. .

23. 花鳥風月

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: kachou fuugetsu

Translation: “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon.” 

Meaning: Experience the beauties of nature, and in doing so learn about yourself.

Example Sentence:

  • 花鳥風月を楽しむために都会を離れた

I’m leaving the city to enjoy the wonders of nature.

24.  苦あれば楽あり

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: Ku areba raku ari

Translation: “With hardships comes pleasure and pleasure comes hardships.” 

Meaning: No Pain No Gain

Example Sentence:

  • 人生、苦あれば楽あり! 若いうちは苦労をたくさんした方がいい。

Life is “no pain, no gain”! You should work hard a lot when you are young.

25. 一期一会 

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: ichigo ichie

Translation: “Once in a lifetime encounter.” 

Meaning: Enjoy every encounter to the fullest

Example Sentence:

  • 旅先での素敵な出会いは、まさに一期一会だ。

A wonderful encounter on a trip is truly a “once-in-a-lifetime meeting.”

26. 千里の道も一歩から

Inspiring Japanese Proverb and Saying

Pronunciation: senri no michi mo ippo kara

Translation: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 

Meaning: It takes a series of steps to achieve success

Example Sentence:

  • 語学の習得は簡単ではないけれど、千里の道も一歩から。小さな積み重ねが大切です。

Mastering a language is not easy, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The accumulation of small steps is important.

27. 笑う門には福来たる

Pronunciation: warau kado niwa fuku kitaru

Meaning: Laughter and smiles will bring happiness and fortune

Translation: “Good fortune and happiness will come into the house of those who smile.” 

Example Sentence:

  • 日本に笑う門には福来るということわざがあるように、和やかにお正月の食卓を皆で囲むことが一番で、それで十分です。

Remember the saying “Fortune comes to those who smile”; this means that the most important thing is that everyone comes together to the table for the New Year’s holidays.

28. 水に流す

Pronunciation: mizu-ni-nagasu

Meaning: Forgive and forget

Translation: “The water flows.” 

Example Sentence:

  • スージーは物事を水に流すことができない性分だ

Susie is so constituted that she cannot forgive and forget things.

29. 出る杭は打たれる

Pronunciation: deru kui wa utareru

Meaning: People who stick out too much get punished

Translation: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” 

Example Sentence:

  • 出る杭が打たれる会社じゃ大きな成長は望めないね

A company that stifles innovation can’t hope to grow very much.

30. 開いた口が塞がらない 

Pronunciation: aita kuchi ga fusagaranai

Meaning: Someone’s words or behavior are appalling and beyond understanding, and you’re lost for words

Translation: “Open mouth does not close.” 

Example Sentence:

  • 彼の失礼な返事には開いた口が塞がらなかった

We were taken aback by his rude reply.

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