Japanese Idioms & Sayings 1

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Idioms can be hard to understand because the meanings aren't always straightforward, or the references are outdated. However, when used correctly, it can be the perfect way to describe a situation or a feeling. Check out some these most common ことわざ (kotowaza), and take the quiz!

Japanese Idioms & Phrases 1 Quiz!

Before you take the test, lets study some new idioms




同じ釜の飯を食う
(onaji kamano meshiwo kuu)
Eat rice from the same pot

Eat rice from the same pot

釜 (kama) is a type of pot used to cook rice. Since families usually eat rice from the same kama, this phrase is used to describe someone close, or someone who's been through a lot together like a family.


蛇足
(hebiashi)
Snake Feet

snake feet

Imagine a snake with feet. Wouldn’t they just be lizards? But they don't need feet, that's why they're snakes. This is used to describe something that's unnecessary, like feet on a snake.


雀の涙
(suzumeno namida)
A bird's tear

A bird's tear

雀 (suzume) is a type of small sparrow, therefore, it's tears are something very small as well. A famous children's story, 舌切り雀 (shitakiri suzume) involves a suzume.


鬼に金棒
(oni ni kanabou)
Demon with a metal rod

Demon with a metal rod

This phrase implies how oni are already very strong, however if they acquired a weapon like a metal rod, that would only make them stronger and more destructive. Therefore this phrase is used when something becomes stronger with the help of something else.


鬼の目にも涙
(onino menimo namida)
Tears even on a demon

Tears even on a demon

It means that even evil people can have souls. Check out this children’s story, 泣いた赤鬼 (naita akaoni), or the Red Demon that cried.


鬼の居ぬ間に洗濯
(oni no irumani sentaku)
To do laundry while the demon isn't around

To do laundry while the demon isn't around

鬼 (oni) may not necessarily represent an evil person, but someone you don't want to deal with. In this case, 洗濯 (sentaku), or laundry, implies doing "life's laundry", like destressing and cleaning out the messes in one's life. Therefore, 鬼の居ぬ間に洗濯 implies to relax while you can.


鶴の一声
(tsuruno hitokoe)
A crane's one call

A crane's one call

A crane's bird call is quite loud and distinctive (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNaJIxQjiP4&ab_channel=DarknStormyNight), and because they are a symbol for longevity, this phrase implies an important decision or a call was made through someone impressive like a crane.


鶴は千年、亀は万年
(tsuru wa sennen, kamewa mannen)
Crane's are 1000 years, turtles are 10,000 years

Crane's are 1000 years, turtles are 10,000 years

Cranes and turtles are symbols for longevity; cranes known to live up to a 1,000 years, and turtles for 10,000 years. Becuase they live so long, they are a symbol for happiness and celebration, as creatures that live that long should be celebrated.