Some hard-core traditional Japanese culture, in a small convenient package

This is quite possibly the most famous yojijukugo in Japan. I’m not entirely sure how it took me so long to get around to it.


Literally: one – time (period) – one – meeting

Alternately: (Every time you meet someone, you should treat it as) a cherished once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Every time you meet someone is precious (because it might be your last). Focus on the moment with an open and honest heart.

Notes: 一期 is “one lifetime”; 一会 is “one encounter.” The nonstandard readings, even among the set of available Chinese-derived pronunciations (is often read ki, and is often kai), mark this phrase’s roots in Buddhist terminology and thought – but it doesn’t come to us from an ascetic monk. Rather, this four-character compound is said to come from a saying by one of the disciples of the tea-ceremony master known as Sen no Rikyuu, during the late 16th century. I could go on – this phrase unfolds and unfolds and unfolds into so many areas of Japanese history and culture – but perhaps the rest should be left as an exercise for the reader.

Strawberry! It's a pun!

This yojijukugo‘s become a commercial product too. Picture almost unrelated.

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From out of the mouth of me, I grab at thee

(Nodo kara te ga deru; “A hand comes from the throat”)


To want something very, very much; so much that you can hardly stand it. This imaginative metaphor compares desire to physical appetite, and pictures a hunger so powerful that a grasping hand comes out of the person’s throat to seize its object and pull it back. You know, like that weird second mouth inside the alien’s mouth in Alien. Except a hand, not a mouth. Um.

"I wants to play too!"

Look at that face! Doesn’t it just scream “want” to you?

…Long story short, this kotowaza expresses an almost-overwhelming want.


(nodo) is “throat” and から (kara) is a particle roughly equivalent to the English “from,” meaning the first two words of the phrase actually mark the location of the action. The actual subject of the sentence comes next: (te, “hand”), followed by the subject-marker particle (ga) and then the verb 出る (deru, “to come out”).


Although the expression can technically function as a complete stand-alone sentence, it will generally be part of a longer one, followed by terms like ように (you ni, “as if”) or ほど (hodo, “to the degree/extent”). のど can also be written with the kanji , although this is rarer – an alternate character that was only recently reintroduced to the standard set.

Example sentence:


(“Sono geemu wo nodo kara te ga deru hodo hoshii kara, baito de kaseganakya.”)

[“I want that game more than I can bear, so I have to get a part-time job and make some money.”]

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All four of them


Literally: joy – anger – sorrow – ease/pleasure

Alternately: Human emotions. The range of human emotions. All of a person’s emotions.

Four emotions

From this “motivation life hackers” blog

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Thought of the day: baby arms

When a baby is startled, even if it’s asleep, it will often go like this:


Like you just don’t care?

I’m not sure how much scientific literature is out there about this particular reflex. Someone I was talking to idly theorized that its roots go back to humanity’s more simian ancestors, when the possibility of falling out of trees was high; the purpose was perhaps to allow the baby to catch onto a branch and break its fall.

This seems unlikely. New humans spend years developing the strength and coordination they need for purposes ranging from from athletic or gymnastic activities (running, jumping, climbing, etc.) to basic tasks and abilities like holding their heads up and looking around. The chances of a newborn managing the split-second timing necessary to catch something, much less possessing the grip strength to support its own weight and thus to stop or slow its fall, are essentially nil.

What other functions could the reflex serve, then? It could be to startle predators and drive them away. Unexpected motion will spook most animals, even hunting animals. It could be a signal to parents or other caretakers that the baby is in some sort of danger. I fear, though, that the reason really is related to falling.

I have read that when an adult falls a long way, they tend to wind up with foot and/or leg injuries. We instinctively try to land on our feet, because they’re simply more expendable than all the organs above the waist. When an infant falls, however, it has no ability to control its orientation… and babies, with their proportionally large heads, are very top-heavy. Babies who fall will tend to fall head-first.

Where are infants often injured after a fall? In their arms. The statistics suggest that the arms-up reflex is to protect the head. This may be from dangers in general – animal bites, loose objects that might strike it, and so on – rather than from falling damage specifically, but the basic idea is the same.

The sad part of all this is that sufficient numbers of human or pre-human babies must have been put in danger over the course of evolutionary time that the V pose became ingrained as instinct. We get the protective reflex as a legacy from the survivors… but first, somewhere in our past there must be a great number who did not survive, and second there must also be a great number who survived, but at the cost of some sort of injury to the arms. “Nature red in tooth and claw” indeed.

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Frog and more frog

One more kotowaza for the frogs. It’ll be something different next week, I promise.

(Kaeru no ko wa kaeru; “A frog’s child is a frog”)


“Like father, like son.” “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The character and abilities of a child tend to resemble those of a parent. In a negative sense, the saying can be used disparagingly to claim that the children of “mediocre” families are doomed to mediocrity themselves. Due to this nuance, it’s better not to use it in an attempt to praise someone.


(kaeru) is “frog” again; (ko) is “child.” We have two particles, the associative (possessive) (no) and the topic marker (wa). Rendered literally, this kotowaza becomes “As for child of frog, frog.”


The saying can also be extended to 蛙の子は蛙の子, “a frog’s child is a frog’s child.” Note also that the case of the frog’s child turning out to be like its frog parent can be a surprising or counterintuitive congruence: tadpoles look very little like frogs, after all.

Example sentence:

「勉強しても意味ないよ、うちは農家だし。所詮、『蛙の子は蛙』だもん」 「そんなことないよ。『継続は力なり』だよ」

(“Benkyou shite mo imi nai yo, uchi wa nouka da shi. Shosen, ‘Kaeru no ko wa kaeru‘ da mon.” “Sonna koto nai yo. ‘Keizoku wa chikara nari’ da yo.”)

[“There's no point in me studying; we're just farmers. After all, like they say, 'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.'” “That's not true! They also say 'Perseverance is strength'!”]

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Elbow Grease

Midterms. Already?


Literally: cut – scrub/rub – strike – polish/scour/grind
(or: cut – polish – polish – polish!)

Alternately: Diligent effort. Improving oneself through study.

Notes: There’s a fuller phrase, 切磋琢磨し合う (sessa-takuma shiau). The shiau part means “to do together,” “to do reciprocally.” This phrase, then, refers to people working hard together – often encouraging each other to greater efforts through friendly rivalry, like members of the same sports team. By extension, the same meaning can be contained in the original yojijukugo.

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Frog, like honey badger, just don’t care

Another frog kotowaza! Because… I don’t know why. Don’t let it bother you.

(Kaeru no tsura ni mizu; “Water in a frog’s face”)


Not being bothered by things at all. No matter what happens, keeping one’s composure, or even not showing a reaction at all. The vicissitudes of life, to you, are like water to a frog – and frogs live in the water. This can be functionally equivalent to the English expression “Like water off a duck’s back.”

Note, however, that the saying is often used in a critical way, to describe someone’s impudent or shameless behavior. In that case, the “water” that doesn’t draw a response is the disapproval or censure of the people around the “frog,” who is acting as they please without consideration for others.


is “frog” again, although for this saying the pronunciation is the usual kaeru. is, as always, the associative particle, here serving its familiar possessive function. (tsura) is “surface” or “face” (apparently it used to refer specifically to cheeks, as well). (ni) is a directional particle modifying (giving us “in the face” or “into the face”), and finally (mizu, “water”). Reverse the word order and you get “water in face of frog.”


Apparently the Japanese observed that if you splash water on a frog, even in its face, it doesn’t react. I haven’t tested this empirically (and it might be hard to, given that they’re likely to be freaking out about your presence). My sources note that this expression doesn’t apply to people who are too magnificent to be bothered by something trivial; instead, it’s for people who remain calm when most in their position wouldn’t.

The “water” () can also be replaced with 小便 (shouben, “urine”). Make of this what you will.

Example sentence:


(“Donna ni hihan sarete mo, kare wa ki ni sezu ni shitai koto wo suru. Kaeru no tsura ni mizu no you da.”)

[“No matter how much he's criticized, he just does what he wants without a care in the world. It's like throwing water in a frog's face.”]

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