A little high; a little low; any way the wind blows


Literally: one – joy – one – sorrow/anxiety

Alternately: Alternating positve and negative feelings: joy and sorrow, hope and fear, cheerfulness and worry. Being unable to put one’s mind at ease. Mood swings. Extreme sensitivity to small changes in the situation.

A fan-made comic? Not sure.

So, uh, one girl’s mood is influenced by the day’s high temperature; the other’s, by the stock market. Source.

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Maslow would agree

Here’s another famous one:

(Hana yori dango; “Dumplings before flowers”)


People value things that address their concrete needs over more abstract, artistic considerations. It is better for something to be profitable or beneficial than merely pleasing. Substance is more important than surface. …Alternately, a negative reference to someone who focuses overly on practical considerations and is lacking in aesthetic sensibilities.


Again we have a very simple phrase comprising two nouns and a connecting particle. (hana) is “flower,” 団子 (dango) is a round ball of cooked rice flour, grain flour, etc. While commonly translated as “dumpling,” 団子 are often sweets in Japan, eaten together with sweet-bean paste, sauce, kinako flour, and so on, rather than the savory soup elements that dumplings often are in the West. The particle より has a possibly surprising range of meanings, but the one we’re interested in here is comparison or replacement, as in “A over B” or “A rather than B.”


The saying supposedly originates with people at 花見 (hanami, traditional spring sakura-flower-viewing picnic/parties) who preferred to focus on the refreshments rather than on the flowers that were ostensibly the focus of the occasion.

A popular girls’ manga from the 1990’s was titled with a pun on this saying, replacing 団子 with 男子, “boy(s).” Normally this word is pronounced danshi, but here the second character is read as ko, one of its other common pronunciations, which becomes voiced to become go, giving us 男子 = dango.

This kotowaza is the entry in the Edo Iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:

「我々の村を救って下さってありがとうございます。心からお礼を申し上げます。この感謝状を―」 「感謝などじゃない!金、お金をくれ。花より団子だぞ」

(“Wareware no mura wo sukutte kudasatte arigatou gozaimasu. Kokoro kara orei wo moushiagemasu. Kono kanshajou wo” “Kansha nado ja nai! Kane, okane wo kure. Hana yori dango da zo.”)

[“Thank you so much for saving our village, sir. Please allow me to express our heartfelt gratitude. This letter of thanks―” “Don’t just thank me! Money, give me money. I need substance, not show.”]

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A quick link about combat arrowing

Next time you encounter fictional archery, whether in a movie, book, or in a game (especially a fantasy-themed game that involves characters using magic or performing feats of legendary strength and skill), here’s something to keep in mind: 

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Who knows White River?

(Not me! I was asleep!)


Literally: white – river – night – boat

Alternately: Being sound asleep. Being completely unaware of one’s surroundings. Alternately, affecting a know-it-all attitude despite a lack of actual expertise or experience.

Notes: (kawa) can also be written with the more common character . can also be written as , and pronounced either bune or fune (both are pronounced with two syllables, generally rhyming with “moon bay”).

Supposedly this phrase originates with someone who boasted (falsely) about having traveled to the capital in Kyoto, a journey that would have taken them through an area called 白河 (Shirakawa). When asked about Shirakawa, though, they thought it was the name of a river, and claimed to have traveled this river on a boat at night, and as a result they didn’t have much to report. The lie was discovered because of this mistake, and so we have the double meaning of today’s yojijukugo – both the deep sleep that the storyteller claimed, and the pretended knowledge.

(Google Maps locates the 白河 area here in present-day Kyoto.)

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For when you just have to say “At least it wasn’t….”

(Fukouchuu no saiwai; “Happiness amidst misfortune.”)


A cloud’s silver lining. A small consolation in hard times or sadness. A small mercy that things weren’t worse.


This kotowaza is simply a noun phrase. 幸い (saiwai) is a noun indicating either good fortune or the happiness that arises from it. 不幸 (fukou) is another noun that attaches the negating (fu) to the kanji , changing its pronunciation and creating its literal antonym, “misfortune” or “unhappiness.” To the latter is attached the suffix ~(chuu), meaning “[in the] middle [of],” “during,” and so on. (no) is our associative particle. Literally, the phrase becomes “Luck associated with the middle of un-luck.”


Supposedly, this saying can alternately refer to a blessing in disguise, although such usage seems to be rare.

Example sentence (source!):

「当たったのが生ものじゃなくて良かったって、そう考えれば不幸中の幸いって… …シャケだ~!」

(“Atatta no ga namamono ja nakute yokattatte, sou kangaereba fukouchuu no saiwaitte… …shake da~!”)

[“It’s good that what hit me wasn’t some raw food; if you think of it that way at least there’s a silver lining… …RAW SALMON!”]

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Just imagine what they’d do with the War of the Roses

The nuance of from last week’s 群雄割拠 is distinctly masculine; this week, let’s look at a more feminine compound in a similar theme.


Literally: hundred – flower – disorder – disorder

Alternately: A profusion of blooming flowers. A gathering of many beautiful or talented people, especially women. Much talent and achievement in a field developing simultaneously.

Notes: can also be written (meaning “twist around”) without any change in pronunciation or meaning of the four-character compound.

They vote on that kind of thing, doncha know


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Beasts at the gates!

(Zenmon no tora, koumon no ookami;
“A tiger at the front gate, a wolf at the rear”)


“Out of the frying pan, into the fire.” While you were driving away a tiger at the front gate, a wolf came in the rear gate. No sooner do you escape one misfortune than you run into another. Compounded troubles. A pincer attack. A situation that even a hero could not hold up against.


This kotowaza is simply a pair of noun phrases in the AB pattern; in this case is associative. (Which means that the English rendition “at” is not strictly a representative or equivalent to the Japanese grammar.) In each phrase (mon) is “gate,” as in the gate of a traditional estate or compound; 前門 (zenmon) is the front gate and 後門 (koumon) is the rear. The animal at the front gate is (tora), “tiger,” and the animal at the rear is (ookami), a wolf.


In older script, the phrase would be written without a comma, which is after all a Western import. And this is a very old phrase; it seems to be derived from 「前門に虎を拒ぎ後門に狼を進む」, “Warding off a tiger at the front gate; advancing a wolf at the rear gate,” which itself descends from a work called (in Japanese) 評史 (hyoushi) by a Chinese writer called (again, in Japanese) 趙弼 (Chouhitsu).

Example sentence:


(“Gakki no owari ga chikayoru to, dondon isogashiku natte oitsumeraremashita. Ronbun mo aru shi, gakusei-tachi no essei no saiten mo aru shi, zenmon no tora, koumon no ookami to iu joukyou desu.”)

[“I’m increasingly pressed for time as the end of the semester approaches. I have my own thesis to work on, and I have to grade the students’ essays. It’s like I’m caught between a tiger and a wolf.”]

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