An endless barrel of exposition


Literally: acclaimed – study – many – talent

Alternately: Possessing an extensive store of knowledge and a range of skills. Talented and educated. A “Renaissance man.”

Notes: This is another compound formed by simply joining two two-character words together. Common variants may use (shiki), “knowledge,” in place of either or .


“It’s not that I know everything, it’s just that I know that.”

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You can try it if you’d like, but…

Before you entrust an important job to someone with zero experience, maybe make sure the stakes aren’t too high.

(Narawanu kyou wa yomenu; “You can’t recite a Buddhist sutra you’ve never studied.”)


Complicated tasks are impossible to perform correctly without study and practice. No matter how much people may say that you should try, don’t expect to succeed at something you’ve never learned about or experienced.


We begin with the verb 習う (narau), “to learn,” or in this case “to memorize,” in imperfective form with negative suffix (zu) in prenominal form (nu). This allows it to attach to and describe the noun (kyou), “sutra,” and the noun phrase as a whole is marked by the topic particle (wa). (I’d say that here, the carries an implicit contrast with sutras that have been studied.) And the phrase ends with the verb 読む (yomu), “to read (out loud),” in negative potential form.


Keep in mind that Buddhist sutras in Japan are not prayers as most Westerners would envision them. Many are still in Sanskrit, for one thing. And the Sanskrit text is represented phonetically with Chinese characters. And even in texts translated into Chinese, the pronunciation is often different from the on-yomi used in most contemporary Japanese pronunciation. It’s as if an American Catholic were trying to pray in Hebrew, but the Hebrew text was presented phonetically, untranslated, in Cyrillic. If you’re lucky you get a Latinate gloss showing you the pronunciation of the Cyrillic text, but it would be ridiculous to expect a random person off the street to read it accurately.


For example, take a look at the Heart Sutra.

This saying is the entry of the Osaka iroha karuta set.

This saying is nominally antonymous with 門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む, “The child before the gate reads sutras they never learned.” I would say that they’re really complementary, though; the child’s case may seem paradoxical, but this seeming contradiction actually serves to highlight the importance of one’s environment – the child at the temple gate learns the sutras by rote without evening noticing simply by hearing them recited all day every day.

Example sentence:


(Kouhai-tachi ni shutsuba shite mitara umaku iku to omoimasu yo! to unagasaretemo, Nakata-san wa “Watashi mo narawanu kyou wa yomenu” to iitsudzukete, enryo shita.)

[The underclassmen tried to encourage Nakata, saying they thought things would go well if she tried out for the position. But she declined, repeatedly saying “I can’t do I job I never learned.”]

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The law of cause and fruit

Continuing the theme from Sunday’s kotowaza….


Literally: cause – fruit / reward – answer – news / reward

Alternately: The law of karma. What goes around comes around. What returns to you is good or ill depending on whether your actions are for good or for ill. Originally a Buddhist phrase that promised reward or retribution for one’s actions in both one’s immediate past and in one’s past lives. In modern usage, this compound most often refers to the consequences of evil or harmful actions.

Notes: A less common version reverses the second pair of characters and becomes 院が報応. Good-specific and evil-specific related compounds are, respectively, 善因善果 and 悪因悪果 ( and

This compound apparently comes to us from a text called 大慈恩寺三蔵法師伝 (Daijionji sanzouhoushi den), a record of the life of the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang, whose trip to India in the early to mid 7th Century CE provided the basis for the Journey to the West, one of the “four great novels” of classical Chinese literature. More recently, it comes to us via the late 8th or early 9th Century Japanese collection of Buddhist stories known as the Nihon Ryouiki.


It’s a manga! About judgment! Apparently!

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The fruit of corruption

As opposed to 湯から出た錆?

(Mi kara deta sabi; “Tarnished from within.”)


Suffering due to one’s own misdeeds, especially the bad things one has done to others. Paying for one’s mistakes; getting one’s just deserts. The image here is of rust developing from the iron content of a sword blade – a 刀身 (toushin).


This noun phrase is built on (sabi), “rust” or “tarnish.” The rust 出た (deta) “came out,” past tense of 出る (deru). It came out から (kara), “from,” the (mi), “body.”


This appears in the Edo iroha karuta set, but is originally attributed to our old friend Kefukigusa (毛吹草).

Changing the verb to 出した (dashita), “put forth,” is less common but acceptable. Presumably it’s also possible to see alternate forms of , such as the one with the 円 element written as .

Unlike the contemporary GOP, Japanese culture is full of this sort of admonition that bad behavior leads to consequences that the responsible individual will face and suffer from – cf. 自業自得 and 自縄自縛.

Example sentence:


(“Masa-kun ni furareta no? Sore wa mi kara deta sabi yo, shougakkou no toki zuutto ijimeteta shi.”)

[“Masa rejected you? You reap what you sow, and you bullied him all the time in elementary school.”]

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Little Bo Peep and the Paradox of Choice


Literally: many – fork in the road – die – sheep

Alternately: Presented with an overabundance of options or possible paths, one ends up confused and lost. By extension, a field of study being so finely divided that it becomes difficult to discern underlying principles.

Notes: Despite the literal meaning of , the two-character compound 亡羊 actually refers to a sheep getting away from its shepherd and becoming lost. This compound supposedly comes from an allegory told by Warring States period philosopher Yang Zhu, as found in a classical Daoist text known as the Liezi.


Well, this was one of the image search results, for what it’s worth.

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Forthright to an actual fault

(Mi mo futa mo nai; “No filter”)


Too blunt; too open. Someone’s attitude or words being so blunt and tactless that they lack all nuance or subtlety; by extension, so blunt and tactless that further conversation becomes impossible. Literally “no body and no lid” – the “vessel” is entirely absent.


We have two nouns: (mi), “body,” and (futa), “lid.” Each is marked by the particle (mo), “also” or “and.” They’re followed by ない (nai), the negative form of the “to be” verb, in sentence-final form.


Note that (utsuwa), “vessel,” or “container,” can also metaphorically refer to someone’s level of ability, and that saying of someone that 器が小さい (utsuwa ga chiisai), “the vessel is small,” means they’re intolerant toward others’ foibles.

Mi can also be written as homophone without any change in meaning.

See also 単刀直入.

Example sentence:


(“Ano hito wa tsukareta toki, mi mo futa mo nai hanashikata ni naru zo. Tanomitai koto ga attara ashita ga ii kamo.”)

[“When they’re tired, they get really blunt. If you’re asking for something you should probably wait until tomorrow.”]

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Parental Cognitive Development: Devolution to BUS

The kid continues to grow and learn. He’s picking up all sorts of phrases at daycare… and inventing some of his own? (For example, asking for “don don choo choo” videos. I have no idea what kind of train that might be.) He can count to five in both English and Japanese, and seems to understand that you use numbers to refer to a series of objects, although it’s also clear that he doesn’t understand the idea of “four apples” and “five apples” as such yet. He continues to pay attention to the behavior of trains (we live near train tracks and what seems to be a relatively busy switching station, so there are quite a few of them every day), and I’ve been using them to teach him a couple new verbs like “move” and “stop.” Oh, and he’s picked up colors (red, blue, white, black, green, and silver). And the adjective 速い (fast), which he gleefully shouts while running.

One unexpected and fascinating aspect of his development is that he repeats certain phrases a lot. For a while, hardly a day went by when he doesn’t see the rail lines and comment that チューチュー、線路走る (“choo choo runs on the railroad”). Now he comments on what is present or absent, and what’s moving or not.

All this communication is a two-way street, though. As I teach him nouns and verbs and adjectives, he forces me to develop search images that I hadn’t been using before.

I notice trains and other vehicles now. I notice whether a train is short or long, fast or slow, and what kinds of cars it’s composed of. I’ve become acutely aware of buses, which used to be just part of the scenery unless I was specifically interested in catching one at the time, but which now I notice from blocks away. And at times I’ve caught myself muttering, or at least thinking, “BUS!” The same with animals: “DOG!” “CAT!” “BIRD!” “SQUIRREL!”


Turns out it’s just that he’d had puppies at some point previously and his neural circuitry was altered forever by the experience.

It affects my speech, too, at least at home. When I’m ready to turn in at night, I tell my wife that I’m going to 寝ね (ne-ne), i.e. “sleep-sleep”. When I need to go use the restroom, I might say I have to pee-pee. And of all things – a while back we borrowed the Captain America: Civil War movie from the library and watched it. And during the final dramatic fight, when one of the guys got absolutely clobbered in the face, I unthinkingly exclaimed 痛い痛いやろう (itai itai yarou) – roughly, “That must be a boo-boo!”

I’d read that becoming a parent does things to your brain as you bond with your squirmy little poop monkey. And I’m probably aware, on some subconscious level, of a bunch of quirks my parents had when I was a kid that will make perfect sense when I find them cropping up suddenly in my own behavior. But this was the first big one to really jump out and hit me. Kids, man.

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