Japanese wisdom

Japanese culture is known for its wisdom and knowledge. The proverbs that come from this wisdom originate from deep observations about life, which produce beautiful sayings that will inspire by their simplicity and truth. 

A few years ago I started to collect the Japanese proverbs that inspire me. I fold origami crane jewelry with the proverbs on the wings. I hope that they can give inspiration and strenght to the wearer. 

Here are some of my favorite proverbs, which one do you like the most?


1. 七転び八起き

     Nanakorobi yaoki

     Fall seven times, stand up eight.

2.  失敗を繰り返すことで、成功に至る。

     Shippai wo kurikaesu koto de, seikou ni itaru.

     Repeated failures lead to success.

     You need to try, fail, try, fail and try again and again until you get good at something.

3.  何事も経験だからね。

     Nanigotomo keiken dakara ne.

     Everything is an experience.

4.  水に流す

     Mizu ni nagasu

     Throw your troubles into the water.

     Forgive and forget.

5. 盛年重ねて来らず

     Seinen kasanete kitarazu

     The prime of your life does not come twice.

     we would say: YOLO :P

6. 千里の道も一歩から

     Senri no michi mo ippo kara

     A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

7. チャンスは自分で作るもの。

     Chansu wa jibun de tsukuru mono.

     You create your own opportunities.

8. すべての問題は解決策を 持っています。

     Subete no mondai wa kaiketsusaku o motte imasu.

     Every problem has a solution.

9. 船頭多くて船山に登る

     Sendou ouku shite fune yama ni noboru.

     Too many boatmen will bring a boat up a mountain.

     If too many people are involved in a task or activity, it will not be done well.

     Too many cooks spoil the broth.

10. 明日の百より今日の五十

     Asu no hyaku yori kyo no goju

     A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

11. 小打も積もれば大木を倒す

     Shōda mo tsumoreba taiboku-wo taosu

     With many little strokes a large tree is felled.

12. 論より証拠

     Ron yori shoko

     Proof is better than argument.

13. 沈む瀬あれば浮かぶ瀬あり。

     Shizumu se areba ukabu se ari.

     If there’s a sinking current, it’ll get a chance.

     When life has its downs, there will be ups. Such is the nature of life.

     Accept it, and stop worrying about things.

14. 鳴く猫はねずみを捕らぬ

     Naku neko wa nezumi o toranu

     A meowing cat doesn’t catch mice.

15. 酒は本心を表す

     Sake wa honshin wo arawasu

     Alcohol (Sake) reveals true feelings.

     Japanese are not invincible to the honest effects of alcohol either :P

16. 継続は力なり

     Keizoku ha chikara nari

     Perseverance is power.

     Just another way of saying: stick with it, brah.

17. 押してもダメなら引いてみな。

     Oshite-mo dame-nara hiite mina.

     If pushing doesn’t work, try pulling.

18. 雨降って地固まる

     Ame futte ji katamaru

     After the rain, the earth hardens

     Adversity builds character.

19. 千里の道も一歩から

     Senri no michi mo ippo kara

     A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

20. 明日は明日、今日は今日

     Ashita wa ashita, kyo wa kyou.

     Tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today.

21. チャンスは自分で作るもの。

     Chansu wa jibun de tsukuru mono.

     You create your own opportunities.

22. 会うは別れの始め

     Au ha wakare no hajime

     To meet is the beginning of parting

23. 蓼食う虫も好き好き

     Tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki

     Some bugs gladly eat knotweed.

24. 過去は未来によって変えられる。

     Kako-wa mirai ni yotte kaerareru

     The past can be changed by the future.

25. 何事も始めるのに遅すぎるということはない。

     Nanigotomo hajimeru no ni ososugiru to iu koto wa nai.

     It’s never too late to start something.

26. 目指すべき所に、近道は存在しない。

     Mezasubeki tokoro ni, chikamichi wa sonzai shinai.

     There are no short cuts to any place worth going.

27. 未来は今日始まる。明日始まるのではない。

     Mirai wa kyou hajimaru. Ashita hajimaru no de wa nai.

     The future starts today, not tomorrow.

28. だんだん上手になってくるよ

     Dan dan jouzu ni natte kuru yo

     You’ll get better as time goes by.

29. 善は急げ。

     Zen wa isoge.

     Strike while the iron’s hot.

30. 人のふり見てわがふり直せ

     Hito no furi mite waga furi naose

     Learn from others’ good and bad points.

     One man’s fault is another man’s lesson. Watch, observe, and learn.

31. 備えあれば患いなし

     Sonae areba urei nashi

     Providing is preventing.

     To prepare makes no trouble.

32. 初心忘るべからず

     Shoshin wasuru bekarazu

     Should not forget our original intention.

     We shouldn’t forget our beginner’s spirit.

33. ただより高いものはない

     Tada yori takai mono wa nai

     Nothing is more expensive than free.

     It’s harder to repay things that people do for you for free.

34. 寄らば大樹の陰 

     Yoraba taiju no kage

     If you take shade, do it under a large tree.

     Serve the powerful for your own good.

35. 疑心暗鬼

     Gishin Anki

     A doubtful mind creates devils in the dark

     Once you become suspicious, everything is suspicious.

36. 井の中の蛙大海を知らず

     I no naka no kawazu taiki o shirazu

     A frog in a well does not know the great sea.

     Get a wider perspective!

37. 忙中閑あり

     Bouchuu kan ari

     Even when you are very busy, there is occasionally time to take a rest.

     Take a break. Maybe a nap. Eat a cake. Hell, eat the whole cake, you deserve it.

38. 知らぬが仏。

     Shiranu ga Hotoke.

     Not knowing is Buddha.

     Ignorance is bliss. Buddha was pretty blissful and peaceful. Why?

     Because he didn’t need to know everything.

39. 馬鹿は死ななきゃ治らない。

     Baka wa shinanakya naoranai.

     Unless an idiot dies, he won’t be cured.

     Once a fool, always a fool.

40. 門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む。

     Monzen no kozō narawanu kyō wo yomu.

     A young priest near a temple will recite the scriptures untaught.

     The environment makes our characters.

41. 焼け石に水。

     Yake ishi ni mizu.

     Water on a burning hot rock

     It won’t work.

42. 十人十色 。

     Juunin, toiro.

     Ten men, ten colors.

     We’re all different.

43. 能ある鷹は爪を隠す。

     No aru taka-wa tsume-wo kakusu.

     A skilled falcon hides its talons.

     Why show off your skills and talents? Use them to your advantage when no one expects it.


44. 下手があるので上手が知る

     Heta ga aru node jouzu ga shiru.

     We recognize skill because there are people who lack skill.

45. 顔は心の鏡なり

     Kao ha kokoro no kagami nari 

     The face becomes a mirror of the soul.

     Your face reveals a lot about what’s going on inside.

46. 隣の花は赤い

     Tonari no hana wa akai

     The flowers next door are red.

     In other words, the grass is greener on the other side. But in this case,

     it’s flowers, and they’re red. Don’t be jelly.

47. 上には上がある

     Ue ni mo ue ga aru

     Even the top has a top.

     In other words, no matter how good you are, there’s always someone better than you.

     But, you shouldn’t be too worried about that.

48. 天は自ら助くるものを助く

     Ten wa mizukara tasukuru mono o tasuku

     Heaven helps those who help themselves.

     Preparation is important.

49. 氏より育ち

     Uji yori sodachi

     Birth is much, but breeding is more.

     How you’re raised has greater influence on your development rather than where you came from.

50. 論より証拠

     Ron yori shouko

     Proof over theory.

     Proof beats any argument, debate or discussion.

51. 良薬は口に苦し

     Ryouyaku wa kuchi ni nigashi 

     Good medicine tastes bitter.

     The best advice is the one you’re afraid of hearing. Tough love.

52. 縁側の下の力持ち

     Engawa no shita no chikaramochi

     There’s a powerful person underneath the porch/deck.

     It means there’s always a powerful person somewhere in the background,

     making the decisions and pulling the strings.

53. 勝って兜の緒を締めよ

     Katte kabuto no o wo shimeyo

     After victory, tighten your helmet strap.

     Just because you have some good news and good luck doesn’t mean you should relax.

     This is a Japanese samurai proverb that advises to stay on alert despite victory.

     Because when you relax, that’s when an attack (or bad luck) can sneak up on you.

54. 類は友を呼ぶ

     Rui wa tomo wo yobu

     Similar types call each other friends

     Similar people, whether by personality or interest prefer the company of one another.

55. 乞食を三日すればやめられぬ

     Kojiki o mikka sureba yamerarenu

     If you’re a beggar for 3 days, you won’t be able to stop

     Best way to predict a person’s behavior? Their past actions. This proverb is

     a good example of human psychology. Once you start doing something,

     chances are you’ll continue.

56. 有るは無いに勝る

     Aru wa nai ni masaru

     To have something is better than nothing

     Be happy with what you have.

57. 痘痕も笑窪

     Abata mo ekubo

     Pimples can be dimples (when in love)

     A Japanese love proverb. Meaning, that even a a pimple can be as appealing as a dimple.

     When one is in love, imperfections are overlooked or even seen as positive.

58. 遊び人暇なし

     Asobi-nin hima nashi

     Pleasure seekers have no free time

     Being “Busy” isn’t always a good thing. Especially those that have no meaning in life,

     thus creating useless business.

     While you’re chasing one thing, then another – time’s flying by.

59. 明日は明日の風が吹く

     Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku

     Tomorrow, tomorrow’s wind will blow

     Tomorrow is a new day.

60. 明日のことをいうと天井の鼠が笑う

     Ashita no koto wo iu to tenjou no nezumi ga warau

     Speak of tomorrow and the rats in the ceiling will laugh

     Why? Because you can’t predict tomorrow! Yes, tomorrow’s a new day but

     overall, the new day cannot be predicted… and the rats that are snugly lodged

     in your ceiling are laughing hard.

61. 相手のない喧嘩はできぬ

     Aite no nai kenka wa dekinu

     A fight without a partner cannot be had.

     The Japanese culture is totally about harmony. So, the best way to avoid a fight?

      Don’t get the other person a “partner” or a “rival.”

     Walk away. Without another fighter, there is no fight.

62. 成功する事よりも、失敗しない事の方が重要だ。

     Seikou suru koto yori mo, shippai shinai koto no hou ga juuyou da.

     It’s more important to not fail than to succeed.

     Quitting is the real failure.

63. それだけで頑張れます!

     Sore dake de ganbaremasu!

     That’s enough for me to keep going!

     Sometimes, all you need is a coffee to keep going.


     Shikkari to shita mejirushi, yume mitsukete makezuni ganbarou.

     I’ll do my best to find my dreams and goals.

     Set your own goals and dreams and create your own opportunities.

65. 人は失敗から学ぶ。

     Hito wa shippai kara manabu.

     People learn from their mistakes.

66. 周りに流されるな!己を信じろ!

     Mawari ni nagasareru na! Onore wo shinjiro!

     Don’t be swayed by those around you! Believe in yourself!

67. 前向きにね。

     Mae muki ni ne.

     Stay positive.

68. 二兎追うもの一兎も得ず。

     Nito ou mono itto mo ezu.

     He who runs after two hares will catch neither.

     Choose one thing for now. Focus on becoming really good at it.

69. 一年の計は元旦にあり。

     Ichinen no kei wa gantan ni ari.

     The sum of the year is on New Year’s day.

     Preparation and planning are the foundations of success.

70. 急がば回れ。

     Sogaba maware

     Haste makes waste.

     If you rush, you’ll go around in circles.

71. 弘法にも筆の誤り。

     Koubou ni mo fude no ayamari.

     Even Buddhist teachings scrolls have brush slips.

     Even the greatest expert or master sometimes fails.

72. 周りに流されるな!己を信じろ!

     Mawari ni nagasareru na! Onore wo shinjiro!

     Don’t be swayed by those around you! Believe in yourself!

73. 一石二鳥

     Isseki nichō

     Doing two things with one action.

74. 雨降って地固まる

     Ame futte chi katamaru

     After a storm, things will stand on more solid ground than they did before.

75. 猿も木から落ちる。

     Saru mo ki kara ochiru

     Nobody's perfect.

76. あなた一人じゃない。

     Anata hitori janai.

     You’re not alone.

77. あなたならできる。

     Anata nara dekiru.

     You can do it.

78. 集中しろ!

     Shuuchuu shiro!

     Get focused!

79. 辛い時こそ目標を見失わないで

     Tsurai toki koso mejirushi wo miushinawanaide.

     Don’t lose sight of your goals, especially when you’re going through a tough time.

80. 虹を見たければ、ちょっとやそっとの雨は我慢しなくちゃ。

     Niji wo mitakereba, chotto yasotto no ame wa gaman shinakucha.

     If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.

81. もしもあなたがどこに行くか迷っていても、道が導いてくれる。

     Moshimo anata ga doko ni iku ka mayotteitemo, michi ga michibiite kureru.

     If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

82. 私の歩みは遅いが歩んだ道を引き返すことはない。

     Watashi no ayumi wa osoi ga ayunda michi wo hikikaesu koto wa nai.

     I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.

     Don’t try to compare yourself to faster people. Go at your pace and try

     to beat yourself first.

83. 失敗は回り道。行き止まりの道ではない。

     Shippai wa mawarimichi. Ikidomari no michi de wa nai.

     Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.

84. 幸せかどうかは、自分次第である。

     Shiawase ka dou ka wa, jibun shidai de aru.

     Happiness depends upon ourselves.

85. 決して、決して、決して、決して、諦めるな。

     Kesshite, kesshite, kesshite, kesshite akirameruna.

     Never, never, never, never give up.

86. 君は好奇心が旺盛だね。

     kimi wa koukishin ga ousei da ne

     You are really full of curiosity, aren’t you.

87. 猿も木から落ちる

     Saru mo ki kara ochiru.

     Even monkeys fall from trees.

     Anybody can make a mistake.

88. 膝とも談合

     Hiza tomo dangou

     Consult anyone, even your knees.

     Two heads are better than one. 

89. 頂くものは夏でも小袖

     Itadaku mono wa natsu de mo kosode.

     A padded jacket is an acceptable gift, even in summer.

     Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

90. 郷に入っては郷に従え

     Gou ni itte wa gou ni shitage.

     Obey the customs of the village you enter.

     When in Rome, do as the Romans do.




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