On properly protecting your pot

This is not a common or well-known saying by any means, but it tickles my fancy.

(Tsukiyo ni kama wo nukareru; “having your cook-pot stolen on a moonlit night”)


Being caught completely off-guard. Catastrophic negligence, carelessness, or inattention.


月夜 (tsukiyo) is written with the characters “moon” and “night” and means, as you’d expect, “moonlit night.” The particle (ni), in this case, indicates a point in time – in English, “on.” (kama) is a traditional Japanese iron cook-pot, marked by (wo), the object-marker particle. 抜かれる (nukareru) is the passive form of the verb 抜く (nuku), which generally means “to extract,” “to pull out,” but in this case specifically refers to theft.


In the old days, a kama was a valuable and hard-to-replace household tool, so there would naturally be the need to make sure that no area bandits or random passersby walked off with yours. The best time for theft, of course, would be in the dark of the night. You might think, therefore, that a night well-lit by the moon would be safe – but if you make that assumption, relax your guard, and allow your kama to be stolen anyway… that’s the level of carelessness referred to in this kotowaza.

The verb may be given in uninflected form as nuku, or replaced with with 取られる (torareru), from 取る (toru), “to take.” It may also be elided entirely, in the shorthand form 月夜に釜 (Tsukiyo ni kama). My sources remark that replacing the verb with 掘られる (horareru), from 掘る (horu), “to dig,” is an error. Why someone would make that particular substitution is unclear, but there you have it.

Like many others, this saying comes from the traditional Iroha karuta sets; in this case, both the Edo and Kyoto versions.

Example sentence:


(“Baggu wo benchi ni oite, chotto toire ni ittekita dake na no ni, modottekitara baggu mo seki mo toraretetan da. Tsukiyo ni kama wo nukarechattaa!”)

[“I put my bag on the bench and just went quickly to the restroom, but when I came back both my bag and my seat had been taken! I completely let my guard down!”]

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To the bird on the horizon, a far-off shape at sea:
Could I ever soar to you? Would you ever fly to me?
What pathways would we follow then, if such a thing could be
That somewhere we could meet and fly beyond uncertain seas?

To the bird on the horizon, a far-off shape at sea:
All birds must obey the wind, but every one is free.
If you can solve the riddle of how such a thing could be
Then somehow we could meet and fly beyond uncertain seas.

We all must choose the winds we ride, although the end’s unseen
And sail into those futures, no matter what has been
And if some time we meet and fly beyond uncertain seas
Then we will have transcended this horizon and its breeze.

Once, a love poem – at a distance – knowing that the distance would probably never be closed. It wasn’t.
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Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside?


Literally: inside – soft/weak/gentle – outside – sturdy/strong

Alternately: Acting tough but actually timid. Seeming strong but actually weak. “A lion abroad and a mouse at home.”

Notes: This is a negative saying. It describes bullies, North Korea, and [insert topical political jab of your choice here].

Not pictured: cavities, bullies, the GOP political platform. Zing!

Found here – a blog post that starts out with a good point about leadership and self-examination… but by the end has devolved into an abusive screed about how you are hopeless and helpless without Jesus.

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In which a big head is a form of humility

(Minoru hodo atama no sagaru inaho ka na;
“As modest as a ripened head of rice”)


A description or proverbial example of great modesty befitting true greatness. Just as the ripened “ear” or “head” of rice on a rice plant will weigh down the stem so that it bends – reminding the Japanese of a polite bow – so will an exceptional person, a person of character, become increasingly modest even as their level of mastery or position in society rises. With great power comes great self-effacement, so to speak. There’s a passing similarity to “Still waters run deep,” although the nuance is different and the focus is on modesty.


実る (minoru) is a verb, “to ripen,” “to bear fruit.” ほど (hodo) is a particle. Normally it indicates something’s extent, limits, or degree. Thus, we might expect these words to be translatable as “to the extent of fruiting/ripening.” But be careful; this kotowaza uses classical grammar. I believe that the meaning is closer to “As [A], increasingly [B].”

(atama) is a noun, “head.” (no) is a familiar particle – but here it is not the modern associative. Rather, it is a classical particle that filled the role now taken over by (ga) as a subject marker. The verb that the subject performs is 下がる (sagaru), “to hang down.” 稲穂 (inaho) is a compound noun made with the characters (“rice plant”) and (“head of rice”), and – as you’d expect – means “head of rice” (or, by analogy with corn, an “ear of rice”?).

Finally, かな is a particle combination that in modern Japanese functions as a rhetorical question, a sort of “I wonder…?” But in classical usage it has an exclamatory function, equivalent to modern Japanese だなあ (da naa). Lafcadio Hearn, upon repeatedly encountering this particle combination while translating poems about butterflies for his collection Kwaidan, simply rendered it as an exclamation point.

Putting all this together, I’d say a good rendition is “As its fruit ripens, the rice plant bows its head” – or, in a more explicit and clunkier mode, “As it ripens, and to the extent that it ripens, the rice plant bows its head ever lower.”


This is when I learned that the “multi-branched seed head” of a rice or similar plant is called a “panicle.” The term is derived from the Latin panus, meaning “ear of millet.”

下がる can be replaced with 垂れる (shidareru or tareru), meaning “to droop,” “to hang down,” “to weep,” and perhaps familiar from a previous kotowaza. A deeper restructuring that leaves behind the classical phrasing and tweaks the image slightly is 実る稲田は頭垂る (minoru inada wa atama taru), which has an entire rice field rather than a single plant.

The soft-spoken person of great ability is an ideal in many cultures, of course, but perhaps never so eminently enforceable as it was in feudal Japan, where angering the wrong person could end up with you being put to the sword.

Finally, it is possible that the classical turn of phrase has less to do with the age of this kotowaza than with the fact that it follows the 5-7-5 syllable pattern of a haiku. Even to this day, Japanese poetry will borrow the compactness and resonance of thousand-year-old grammar and syntax.

Example sentence:


(“Kyoushi ga gakusei no kenkyo na taido wo homeru tame ni tegami ni kaite okutta
Minoru hodo atama sagaru inaho ka na.’”)

[“Praising the student’s modesty, the teacher sent a note in which was written,
As it ripens
the humble rice plant
bows its head!

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Test Post

Apparently there was a hiccup in the system and WordPress lost contact with Facebook. This post is just to check and see if I’ve got that straightened out again. Ping!

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A Raven, to a Wren

A Raven, to a Wren

Bound about by this city, smog, steel,
Brother and sister bird-chicks, blindly
dreaming flight under its gray sky-shell
Feeling the outer world invisible,
closed and open spaces, winds and havens
What can we do, as yet unborn, untried,
but spread in dreams, in hope, our wings of words
and trace our arcs across this inner space
Preparing for a free wild infinity?

A poem I wrote to a fellow writer, long ago and far away. Never stop writing.

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Cool-headed, hot-footed

The winter is upon us! Here’s a helpful tip for weathering it.



Literally: head – cold – leg/foot – heat

Alternately: Keeping your head cool and your feet warm; a recommended palliative when you have a cold, or general advice for body-temperature regulation in the winter.

Notes: Cooling the head, by itself, is a metaphor for remaining calm in Japanese just as in English. This yojijukugo as a whole doesn’t seem to have any such metaphorical use, though. That said, it’s not bad advice overall: a certain amount of exposure to cool air encourages the body to develop or retain “brown fat,” which has been shown to play a role in regulating metabolism. At the same hand, a single experience is enough to impress on you that it’s near-impossible to sleep when your feet are cold.

Hot water bottles! How quaint!

Totally cribbed from this now-defunct Russian Japanese-study blog. I have no idea where they got it. A Japanese blog, perhaps.

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