The family business


Literally: depend / rely on – depend / rely on – ally / strength – breathe through the nose / exert strength

Alternately: Favoritism. Bias. Taking sides with one’s friends, relations, or allies in a situation where one should be impartial or objective. Nepotism, for example.

Notes: While the first character of this compound is in the general-use set; the latter three are all “rare.” One of my dictionaries even specifies the final as referring to an exertion of strength in aikido practice. Nonetheless, the compound itself is relatively well known (when spoken, if not when written).

Note that the first character is pronounced e here, even though it is commonly read i; and that the final character is technically supposed to be read as simply ki, but that phonetic drift has rendered it as iki.


Realistically speaking, it’s much worse in Shinji’s case.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magic Monday – Seeing the unseen; smelling the unsmelled

Wizard Eyes (Submerge in Wind)

It is said that the most powerful and skilled of magicians have senses that surpass those of normal men and women. And this is true, to a degree: any good practitioner of magic will train their ability to notice details and subtle distinctions that most people overlook, and develop a feel for the flow and flavor of magic in an area as well. However, the extent of reputation for keen perception is largely based on this spell. Developed by the Sage of Blue Tower from the northern rock country known as the Tal, this magic is thought to involve allowing one’s conscious mind to approach one’s Shadow self, and take that self’s senses into account while making one’s observations of the material world. Would-be magi should beware, though: without training, maintaining this contact for too long leads quickly to madness. Magi of the Order almost exclusively augment their sight, and use a version of this spell (which they named “Wizard Eyes”) that changes the user’s eye color in dramatic ways.

In practical terms, this spell adds the caster’s skill score in Sixth Sense to their score in some other perception skill. The base difficulty is d8, and the base cost is one strain per task, assuming it lasts for less than about a minute. (This length can be doubled, increasing the difficulty by a step for each doubling.) Extended tasks cost two strain for the second time unit, three for the third, and so on.


Stanky old wizard eyes!

Posted in Rules, Setting | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bogwood blooming

(Umoregi ni hana ga saku; “Flowers blooming on a buried tree”)


Unexpectedly returning to fame, wealth, power, etc. after an extended time of obscurity, exile, or general misfortune. Just as a tree that has fallen and sunk into the earth is assumed to be dead, we assume that the career of someone who has fallen out of the public eye is over. Regaining the spotlight is akin to the fallen and buried tree suddenly sprouting leaves and flowers again.


Right-to-left again! Our governing verb is 咲く (saku), “to blossom.” The particle (ga) marks the noun (hana, “flower”) as the subject of this verb. The particle (ni) here marks location or something like giving – “to” in the sense of “unto,” if you will. And the location or recipient of the flowers is (ki), “tree,” modified by the verb 埋もれる (umoreru), “to be buried/covered,” in prenominal form. Some dictionaries translate umoregi as “bogwood” or “bog oak,” although it hardly has to be actual oak.


In related sayings, the buried tree may be exchanged for an old tree (老い木; oiki) or a withered tree (枯れ木; kareki). Some versions of these may elide the particle .

The saying appears to be derived from a passage in the Tale of the Heike.

Example sentence:


(“Mou shinda ka to omotteita sakka ga, nijuunen buri ni kessaku wo dasu to wa, umoregi ni hana ga saitanda ne.”)

[“For an author – who I thought was maybe dead – to put out a new masterpiece after twenty years… it’s like flowers blooming on a fallen and buried tree.”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The existential chaos of “tide comes in, tide goes out”


Literally: right – travel – left – travel

Alternately: Disorder. Moving back and forth without clear aims or results. Much confusion and going to-and-fro. My sources seem to disagree about whether it’s primarily referring to one person in a state of confusion, or many people together in a state of chaos, so either situation is probably okay.

Notes: It seems that some versions of this compound voice the sa, pronouncing it as za, but even if considered legitimate, this is extremely rare and should probably be avoided.

If writing this compound by hand, make sure not to leave out a single stroke and write as ; the meaning and pronunciation are both completely different.


It’s a pun! (王 – also pronounced ou – is “king.”) Appropriate, too, since the 左 is backwards.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Extrapolator extraordinaire

Sherlock Holmes again!

(Ichi wo kiite juu wo shiru; “Hearing one; knowing ten”)


Having great powers of reasoning and understanding. Learning one part and understanding the whole. Hearing just a little bit about something is enough for the person so described to realize quite a bit more. “A word to the wise is sufficient.”


This sentence comprises a pair of parallel verb phrases in sequence. Each has a number (grammatically, a noun) and a verb, and connects them with the particle (wo), marking the number as the object of the verb. In the first phrase, the noun is (ichi), “one,” and in the second, it’s (juu), “ten.” What one does to “one” is 聞く (kiku); “to hear,” in conjunctive form. What one does to “ten” is 知る (shiru), “to learn about,” “to be(come) aware of,” “to know,” etc.


Some versions of this kotowaza replace 知る with 悟る (satoru), a related term with connotations of Buddhist enlightenment. Others attach the counter (koto), “(abstract) thing,” to the lone numbers and 十 and make 一事 and 十事.

This saying comes from the Analects of Confucius. It’s based on a longer passage in which Zi Gong is questioned and praises fellow disciple Yan Hui (apparently considered Confucius’ favorite and best disciple), saying “He hears one thing and understands ten, while I hear one thing and only understand two.” It is included in the Osaka iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:


(Ichi wo kiite juu wo shiru kurai ni rikairyoku ga aru senpai ni akogarete, mainichi benkyou ni kotsukotsu hagemu koto wo ketsui shita Jirou de atta.)

[Wanting to be like his senior, whose powers of reasoning allowed him to take one fact and deduce ten others, Jirou resolved to study hard every day.]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An apple a day… may help.


Literally: medicine – food – same – source

Alternately: Just as medicine is used to cure diseases, eating well is key to maintaining one’s health. The best defense against ill health is a proper balanced diet (as an every-day practice).

Notes: Some versions of this saying use (yaku), “medicine,” instead of . It seems that the version is the original Chinese idea, while the version was created and used in Japan based on it. Apparently some people use (also pronounced i, but meaning “clothing”) in place of . This is plainly an error.


Today’s compound commemorates the treaty that ended the great doctor-chef wars of the 18th century. How quickly we forget the lessons of the past.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magic Monday – Bigger than baby steps

Small Steps (Unseen Travel; Shadow Travel)

This odd but versatile spell involves repeated physical entry and exit into and from the Shadow (the spiritual reflection of the material plane). It reduces the difficulty and stresses of this passage by making each trip very brief: the span of a single step. Fortunately for the magician, a single step in the Shadow can be warped into several meters’ distance in the mortal world. In practical terms, the magician steps out of sight in one location and appears somewhere nearby, even if such a transit should have been impossible. One odd side-effect of the method is that the magic works best if the precise moments of appearance and disappearance are unobserved, so many magicians will take pains to step through a doorway or behind an obstacle in order to use Shadow Travel.

The base difficulty is d8, and the base cost is one strain plus one strain per step taken; the caster may take such a step at any time as long as they are concentrating to maintain the spell. If at any time a step is observed by a sentient native of the mortal plane, another check must be made and the difficulty rises by a step. Observers who are within arm’s reach may make a Dexterity check at d12 to follow the caster, appearing a pace behind them in the new location. The caster may purposefully bring any number of others with them in this manner at the cost of two strain per traveler per trip; this version of the spell raises the difficulty by three steps. Difficulties are reduced by two steps, and strain costs reduced by one (to a minimum of one point at casting) in a wizard’s place of power.

Posted in Rules | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment