Not just hermits

Buddhist tzaddikim?

(Hotoke sennin kami sennin; “A thousand Buddhas, a thousand gods”)


The world may be full of bad people, but there are also many good people as well, including people good enough to be compared to bodhisattvas or benevolent deities.


This simple noun phrases comprises a doubled use of the number-noun 千人 (sennin), “one thousand people.” The first use follows the noun 仏 (hotoke), “Buddha,” or a kind and enlightened person with the Buddha-spirit; the second follows 神 (kami), “god.”


Compare and contrast with a similarly optimistic oni-focused saying from a while back.

My sources say that 千人 is used to suggest “a large number of people,” but it’s worth noting that there also seems to be a concept of 千仏 (senbutsu, “one thousand Buddhas,”) according to which there were / are / will be a thousand Buddhas over the course of the three past, present, and future kalpas of cosmic time. Let me stress that this isn’t a definite causal connection, but rather an interesting correspondence. Those interested in investigating further can check the source, a late 18th-century CE sharebon called the 太平楽巻物 (Taihei raku no makimono), by Morishima Churyo.

Some versions may include a comma between the two halves.

Example sentence:


(“Saikin no nyuusu wa oni no you na akunin-tachi no akuji bakkari de, ochikonjaisou. Kono yo wa hotoke sennin kami sennin mo iru no wo wasurenai you ni ganbaranakucha.”)

[“The recent news has been a parade of evil deeds by demonically evil people, and I feel like I’m going to fall into a depression. I have to make sure to not forget that there are also plenty of saints.”]

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

A day for lying in


Literally: empty – birth / arbitrary – delusion – explanation

Alternately: Groundless remarks. False statements. Talking nonsense; making irresponsible comments; shooting off at the mouth.

Notes: This is another two-two-character-compound-compound: 虚誕 refers to not just falsehoods but exaggerated falsehoods, while 妄説 refers to unsupported assertions or false claims. The latter term can be pronounced bousetsu when used on its own, but not in this four-character compound.

This usage of 誕 is a bit of a revelation to me, actually – it’s almost only ever used in modern Japanese as part of the term 誕生 (tanjou), “birth.” Apparently the combination of 言, “word,” and 延, “extend” originally meant “words that extend beyond reality” – i.e. a falsehood. It can also mean “(speaking of) things as one wants them to be (rather than how they really are),” and at this point we have to be careful because the folk etymologies bridging the gap to “birth” practically jump at you… but assuming them to be true without in-depth research would just be another case of 虚誕妄説!


Apparently also the name of a (fake) game whose (fake) development was announced on April Fool’s Day one year.

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

Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt

fällt zusammen hinein?

(Hito wo norowaba ana futatsu; “If you place a curse, [dig] two holes”)


If you try to harm others, harm will come (back) to you. More literally, if you curse someone to death, their dying grudge will afflict and kill you in turn, so that your initial malevolence results in two graves being needed. “Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.”


We begin with the noun 人 (hito), “person,” marked as the object of a verb by the particle を (wo). What acts on the person is the only verb present: 呪う (norou), in imperfective form with the hypothetical particle ば (ba) attached. This is followed by a noun phrase comprising noun 穴 (ana), “hole,” and number 二つ (futatsu), “two.” We can imagine some elided final verb to make a complete sentence, but usage examples suggest that the whole saying is commonly used as a noun phrase.


Making the “holes” (穴) explicitly graves (墓, haka) is considered an error. On the other hand, it’s okay to use the perfective form 呪え with the conditional ば instead of imperfective and hypothetical – in other words, it’s okay to say “when” rather than “if.”

This phrase comes to us from the Ise Monogatari, a Heian-era narrative poetic collection.

Example sentence:


(“Yamero! Tatoe teki wo utte mo, aitsu no mikata ga fukushuu wo shi ni yatte kuru dake nanda. Hito wo norowaba ana futatsu da yo.”)

[“Stop! Even if you strike down your foe, his allies will only come for revenge. If you go to kill someone, dig your own grave too.”]

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

More likely when the person at the center is rotten


Literally: morning – fly (the insect, not the verb) – evening – mosquito

Alternately: A troublesome situation or gloomy atmosphere caused by an assemblage of narrow-minded, trivial people. Like being surrounded by clouds of flies in the morning and clouds of mosquitoes in the evening.

Notes: This delightfully insulting image comes to us from the collected poems of Han Yu (韓愈, in Japanese Kan Yu), whom we’ve seen before.

The “fly” character can be written as 蠅 (old form) or 蝿 (new) without any especial difference.


Found in the title of episode 34 of an obscure anime about… delinquent teenage girls with psychic powers?

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

Has, shoots, and leaves

(Ugo no takenoko; “Bamboo shoots after the rain”)


The same thing, or similar things, popping up one after another. Repetition. Recurrence. Like a profusion of bamboo shoots sprouting after the rain. Like mushrooms after the rain, in Western parlance.


This simple idiom is a noun phrase. It begins the adverbial noun 雨後 (ugo), “after the rain.” The associative particle の (no) marks it as connected to and modifying the noun 筍 (takenoko), “bamboo shoot.”


Apparently some people interpret this phrase as referring to speedy growth, but this is considered an error.

Takenoko may also be written using better-known characters, as 竹の子.

Example sentence:


(“Saikin, oshoku sukyandaru ga ugo no takenoko mitai ni hinpan ni arawareteiru you na ki ga suru.”)

[“I feel like recently, corruption scandals have been cropping up nonstop, like mushrooms after the rain.”]

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

A dangerous game when your name starts with “hundred”

I guess birds are illiterate?


Literally: hundred – tongue – compare – determine

Alternately: Arranging things so that others end up paying your costs for you. Especially at a restaurant, manipulating the bill in a way that divides your own expenses among your partners so that you don’t have to pay anything yourself. Similar to acting presidential, but through one’s own cleverness rather than through borrowing the brains of an army of unethical accountants.

Notes: The 百舌 is actually the bull-headed shrike, supposedly so-named for its frequent calls. 勘定 is the act of settling a bill.

This compound is said to be based on a story in which the shrike, after buying food together with a sandpiper and a dove, talks them into paying the whole bill – essentially by playing on their names. They had a bill (pun intended) of 15 mon. In Japanese sandpiper is 鴫 (shigi), which starts with the same sound as 七 (shichi), “seven,” while dove is 鳩 (hato), which starts with the same sound as 八 (hachi), “eight.” The sandpiper paid seven, the dove paid eight, and the shrike walked away without paying a single coin.

Additional trivia: There’s an ancient tomb complex in Osaka prefecture named 百舌鳥古墳群 (Mozu Kofungun); note that here the name mozu includes the character 鳥, “bird,” without any change in pronunciation.


I couldn’t find anything really illustrative of the compound itself, so here’s a photo of the male 百舌鳥; source in lower right.

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

Paul Ryan’s next plan for American health care

Nah, it would still cost rich people a bit of money.

(Nikai kara megusuri; “Eye medicine from the second floor”)


A frustrating situation where things don’t go as you want. Alternately, a roundabout way of doing things that doesn’t produce satisfactory results. Like trying to give somebody eye drops by dripping them from the second story of a building while they’re standing at street level.


This noun phrase consists of the number-counter 二階 (nikai), the second floor of a building, marked by the particle から (kara), “from,” as being the origin of some motion or action, and compound noun 目薬 (megusuri), “eye medicine,” i.e. eye drops. One can imagine a verb, and or the phrase ように (you ni), “like,” but any such additions have been elided and are not used in modern Japanese.


Apparently some people miss the point by assuming that the eye medicine manages to get into the eyes properly, and end up interpreting this phrase to mean “a lucky shot,” “a fluke success.” This is an error.

One variant phrase replaces the second story with 天井 (tenjou), “ceiling.” (I find myself imagining Spider-man.) A more obscure one replaces the eyedrops with 尻炙る (shiri aburu), “to warm one’s butt,” with the image of trying to warm oneself in the winter at a fire one floor below.

This is the に entry of the Kyoto iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:


(“Aniki ga meikko-tachi wo settoku shite mite mo, kodomo no kokoro no wakaranai aniki ni wa yappari nikai kara megusuri datta. Chotto shisshou sezaru wo enakute, aniki wo okorasechatta.”)

[“My older brother tried to convince our nieces, but he doesn’t understand how kids think, so of course it didn’t go anything like how he expected. I couldn’t help laughing out loud, and kind of made him mad at me.”]

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