Kotowaza (諺) are Japanese proverbs or idioms that are used to convey a deeper meaning through a concise phrase. These phrases have been passed down through generations and have become an integral part of Japanese culture. They are often used in daily conversation, literature, and media to express various aspects of life, including wisdom, morality, and social norms.
The origins of kotowaza can be traced back to the Heian period (794-1185) when Japanese literature flourished. The use of kotowaza gained popularity during the Edo period (1603-1868), when the samurai class valued wisdom and intellect. The samurai believed that the use of kotowaza demonstrated a person’s intelligence and discernment, and thus they were often used in their daily conversations.
Even today, Kotowaza sound great when you sprinkle them into your Japanese. They give your spoken language a real depth and character, and give a real sense of fluency to your speech. There’s quite literally a saying for every imaginable situation (even to the point that many are contradictory!), and it’s well worth taking the time to learn a few…even if it’s just to win an argument with a single line!
Here are a couple of the most common kotowaza to get started….
Literal meaning: Don’t enter the tiger’s den. Interpretation:
This kotowaza advises us to be cautious and avoid situations that may harm us. It is based on the story of a Chinese military strategist who advised his troops to avoid entering the enemy’s stronghold, which was referred to as a “tiger’s den.”
Literal meaning: Even monkeys fall from trees.
Interpretation: This reminds us that everyone makes mistakes, no matter how skilled or experienced they are.
Literal meaning: Evidence over argument.
Interpretation: This kotowaza emphasizes the importance of providing evidence or proof to support your claims, rather than relying solely on arguments or opinions.
Literal meaning: The path is winding like a snake.
Interpretation: This reminds us that life is full of twists and turns, and that we must be adaptable and flexible in order to navigate its challenges.
Literal meaning: Before and after, there will never be another. Interpretation: This refers to a unique and rare event, emphasizing the idea that such an event is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
Literal meaning: There is no winning or losing in life.
Interpretation: This kotowaza reminds us that life is not a competition, and that the goal should not be to defeat others, but to live our lives with integrity and purpose.
Literal meaning: Even on a rock, three years.
Interpretation: This kotowaza emphasizes the importance of persistence and perseverance, reminding us that with dedication and hard work, even the most difficult tasks can be accomplished.
Literal meaning: Time is money.
Interpretation: This kotowaza emphasizes the value of time, reminding us that we should use our time wisely and not waste it on trivial matters.
Literal meaning: Hurry to do good.
Interpretation: This kotowaza encourages us to act quickly and decisively when it comes to doing good deeds or making positive changes in our lives or the world around us.
Literal meaning: Connections are different, but the taste is the same.
Interpretation: This kotowaza emphasizes the idea that people from different backgrounds or walks of life can still form strong bonds or connections, even if they are vastly different from one another.
If you’d like to read up on kotowaza, there been a great book around since the 80s that is still in print, ‘Even Mokeys Fall From Trees‘
If you’d like to learn more about studying in Kobe, visit our website at www.lexisjapan.com