Top 10 Kotowaza - How to Use Proverbs in Japanese 867 0

Top 10 Kotowaza - How to Use Proverbs in Japanese

Have you ever tried using kotowaza when talking with Japanese speakers? Kotowaza are Japanese proverbs. There are three different types of kotowaza:

  • 言い習わし (iinarawashi, a short saying)
  • 慣用句 (kanyouku, an idiomatic phrase)
  • 四字熟語 (yojijukugo, a four-character idiom)

In this article, I will introduce 10 different (and useful!) kinds of kotowaza, their figurative and literal meaning, and how each of these proverbs can be used in a sentence.

1. 十人十色 (Juunin Toiro)

  • Literal meaning: Ten people, ten colors.
  • Figurative meaning: To each his own.

Example:

人の好みは十人十色だから、全ての人は同じものが好きじゃありません。

(Hito no konomi wa juunin toiro dakara, subete no hito wa onaji mono ga suki jya arimasen.)

Because people's preferences are to their own, not everyone likes the same things.

2. 以心伝心 (Ishin Deshin)

  • Literal meaning: What the mind thinks, the heart transmits.
  • Figurative meaning: Understanding without words.

Example:

友達が食べたいものは、以心伝心で分かる。

(Tomodachi ga tabetai mono wa, ishin denshin de wakaru.)

I know what my friends want to eat without the need for words.

3. 馬が合う (Uma ga au)

  • Literal meaning: Horses match.
  • Figurative meaning: To get along.

Example:

山田さんと田中さんは映画を見るのが好きなので、馬が合う

(Yamada-san to Tanaka-san wa eiga wo miru no ga suki nanode, uma ga au.)

Mr. Yamada and Mr. Tanaka both likes movies, so they get along well.

4. 上の空 (Uwa no Sora)

  • Literal meaning: The sky above.
  • Figurative meaning: To be distracted.

Example:

授業中、生徒は時々上の空だ。

(Jyuugyouchuu, seito wa tokidoki uwa no sora da.)

Students are sometimes distracted during class.

5. 顔から火が出る(Kao kara hi ga deru)

  • Literal meaning: Flame coming out of the face.
  • Figurative meaning: To be embarrassed.

Example:

好きな人の前で転んでいたので、顔から火が出た

(Suki na hito no mae de korondeitanode, kao kara hi ga deta.)

I was embarrassed because I tripped in front of the person I liked.

6. 涙をのむ (Namida wo nomu)

  • Literal meaning: Swallowing tears.
  • Figurative meaning: To endure something painful.

Example:

テストを不合格したので、涙をのんだ

(Tesuto wo fugoukaku shita node, namida wo nonda.)

I endured the pain because I failed my test.

7. 首を長くする (Kubi wo nagaku suru)

  • Literal meaning: To stretch your neck.
  • Figurative meaning: To wait anxiously.

Example:

佐藤さんと小川さんは放課後カラオケに行く予定なので、授業の終わりを首を長くして待っていた。

(Satou-san to Ogawa-san ha houkago karaoke ni iku yotei nano de, gakkou no owari wo kubi wo nagakushite matteita.)

Because Ms. Sato and Ms. Ogawa plan to go to karaoke after school, they anxiously waited for class to end.

8. 猫の手も借りたい (Neko no te mo karitai)

  • Literal meaning: I would even borrow a cat's paw.
  • Figurative meaning: You're so busy that you're in need of help.

Example:

宿題が多過ぎて、猫の手も借りたいぐらい忙しいです。

(Shukudai ga oosugite, neko no te mo karitai gurai isogashii desu.)

I have so much homework and I'm so busy that I need help.

9. 歯が立たない (Ha ga tatanai)

  • Literal meaning: Teeth won't stand up.
  • Figurative meaning: To be beyond one's ability.

Example:

先生の手書きが奇麗過ぎて、私の手書きは先生に歯が立たない

(Sensei no ji kireisugite, watashi no ji wa Sensei ni ha ga tatanai.)

The teacher's handwriting is so beautiful that I would be unable to compete with him.

10. 一石二鳥 (Isseki Nichou)

  • Literal meaning: One stone, two birds.
  • Figurative meaning: To kill two birds with one stone.

Example:

日本のアニメとドラマを観ると、日本の文化を学びながら日本語の勉強ができるので、一石二鳥だ。

(Nihon no anime to dorama wo miru to, Nihon no bunka wo manabinagara Nihongo no benkyou ga dekiru no de, isseki nichou da.)

When I watch anime or Japanese dramas, I am killing two birds with one stone because I can learn about Japanese culture and can study the language at the same time.

So when you're using Japanese in a conversation, try using one of these kotowaza to impress the people you're talking with! がんばって!  

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