It was the best of stuff, it was the worst of stuff


Literally: jewel – stone – mix – mix

Alternately: Good mixed with bad. Valuable things mixed together with worthless things. Wheat and chaff.

Notes: Rare character 淆 may be replaced with 交 without any change in meaning or pronunciation. However, reading either of these as gou is considered an error, despite what one might guess based on normal rules for voicing in compounds.

This compound comes to us from a 17-century-old Chinese text known as the Baopuzi (抱朴子, in Japanese Houbokushi).


But what if you just polished all the rocks?

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Green grow the rushes


(Seite wa koto wo shisonjiru; “To hurry is to fail”)


If you rush things you’re going to make mistakes, and your attempt at speed will end up having been in vain. When pressed or pressured, be extra careful. Haste makes waste. 急がば回れ.


We begin with the verb 急く (seku), “to hurry,” in conjunctive form. The combination of the “te” form and the following particle は (wa) creates a conditional, “If you hurry.” The clause describing the consequence begins with the noun 事 (koto), “thing,” “matter,” “situation,” etc. The “matter” is marked as the direct object of a coming verb by the particle を (wo), and that verb is 仕損じる (shisonjiru), “to make a mistake” or “to fail,” in sentence-final form.


The final verb may appear in alternate form 仕損ずる (shisonzuru) or be replaced entirely by 過つ (ayamatsu), “to err.” However, while the kanji 急 is also used in the verb 急ぐ (isogu), reading the opening of this saying as Isoide wa would be an error.

This saying apparently comes to us from an 18th century Chinese text called the 通俗編 (in Japanese, Tsuuzokuhen).

Example sentence:


(“Ishi ni tsumadzuite taore nagara, daiji ni kakaeteita yakimono ga kitto tonde itte shimau to jikkan shita Wataru-kun no nouri ni ukanda tatta hitotsu no kangae wa, Aa, nando mo mimi ni shita koto wa aru kedo, kore de youyaku seite wa koto wo shisonjiru to iu kotoba no imi ga rikai dekita, to iu koto de atta.”)

[“He tripped on a rock and as he fell, as he realized that the pottery he had cradled in his arms so carefully was going to go flying, the one thought that flitted through Wataru’s mind was ‘Oh, I’ve heard it over and over, but now I finally understand the meaning of the phrase Haste makes waste.’”]

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Mere anarchy

Does the candy association accept this member mint?


Literally: four – part – five – split

Alternately: Disintegration. Things coming apart. Order breaking down and chaos taking over.

Notes: The 分 may also be pronounced bu, although this is much less common. This compound comes to us from the Records of the Grand Historian (史記), in the chapter on Zhang Yi (張儀).


If you know, you know.

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Book learnin’ minus brain learnin’ ain’t learnin’

But a rabbit-hole is just as dangerous.

(Manabite omowazareba sunawachi kurashi;
“Study without consideration is nothing.”)


No matter how much you study, if you don’t also think about the content of what you’re learning, you can’t actually reach the truth. Unexamined input is almost useless.


We begin with the verb 学ぶ (manabu), “to study,” in conjunctive form, which allows it to work with another verb. Accordingly, it’s followed by 思う (omou), “to think,” in imperfective form. This in turn takes the negative suffix ざり (zari) in perfective form, which allows it to take the conditional suffix ば (ba), “when.” The result of the conditional is 則ち (sunawachi), in this case “and then,” and then 罔し (kurashi). This last is not common Japanese these days – in fact, 罔 is a rare character often used to mean “net,” but which can also mean – and apparently originally meant in Chinese – “deceive” or “not.” Anyway, I’m not 100% certain about why there’s that shi on the end. My guess is that it’s an adjective in sentence-final form, equivalent in both form and function to the more prosaic 無し (nashi).


This comes to us from Confucius’ Analects (論語, in Japanese Rongo), in the section on governance (為政). It may be followed by counterpoint 思いて学ばざれば則ち殆し (omoite manabazareba sunawachi ayaushi), “Thinking without studying is dangerous” – i.e. simply trying to reason things through on your own without a solid educational background leads to a complacency that leaves you open to all sorts of uncaught errors.

Example sentence:

「先生、教科書をちゃんと読んでもう理解したはずなのに、どうしてエッセイも書かないといけないのですか?」 「考えさせるためだよ。学びて思わざれば則ち罔しというからね」

(“Sensei, kyoukasho wo chanto yonde mou rikai shita hazu na no ni, doushite essei mo kakanai to ikenai no desu ka?” “Kangaesaseru tame da yo. Manabite omowazareba sunawachi kurashi to iu kara ne.”)

[“Teacher, why do I have to write an essay even though I already read and understood the textbook?” “It’s to make you think more about it. They say that learning without thinking comes to naught, after all.”]

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One piece of sushi?

寿司一貫 is the correct counter!


Literally: end – begin – one – pierce

Alternately: Unchanging. Consistent. Without any variation, straight through from beginning to end, especially in one’s way of doing things.

Notes: This phrase comes to us from the Book of Han, in the chapter on Wang Mang (王莽, in Japanese Oumou).

Over the years people have invented several erroneous ways to write the ikkan part, including 一環 or 一巻. Don’t do that.


Piercing all the way through.

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Rome didn’t fruit in a day

Still faster than truffula trees, though.

(Momokuri sannen kaki hachinen;
Peach and chestnut, three years; persimmons, eight years.”)


As Piet Hein said, Things Take Time. The peach and chestnut trees must grow for three years from when they sprout before they begin bearing fruit, and the persimmon tree takes eight years. So do all plans and tasks and special investigations require time before coming to fruition; there is no magic bullet for instant success.


All kanji! No grammar! We begin with 桃 (momo), “peach (tree),” and 栗 (kuri), “chestnut (tree),” juxtaposed to show that they’re in the same category, followed by the number-noun combination 三年 (sannen), “three years.” Next up is the noun 柿 (kaki), “persimmon (tree),” coupled with number-noun 八年 (hachinen), “eight years.”


This pithy saying is part of a long tradition of kotowaza encouraging patient, steady effort. Some variants also claim that biwa fruit (a.k.a. loquats)and yuzu (a citrus) take nine years, etc.

This saying is the も entry of the Osaka iroha karuta set, and comes to us from an Edo-era essay called the 三養雑記 (San’you zakki).

Example sentence:


(“Tsugi no happyou ga machidooshii kamoshiremasen ga, momokuri sannen kaki hachinen to iu no de, ato shibaraku gama wo onegai shimasu.”)

[“You’re likely waiting on the edge of your seats for the next announcements. But as they say, ‘good things come to those who wait,’ so please bear with us for a while longer.”]

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He’s a guy of delusions, alright

But is it still paranoia if you’re guilty of crimes?


Literally: incur – harm – delusion – thought

Alternately: A persecution complex. Paranoia. A deluded belief that one is being unfairly singled out, specifically targeted, or harmed even though the reality is far more benign or impartial.

Notes: This is another compound comprising two two-character compound words: higai is “damage,” and mousou is “delusion.”


The irrational feeling that somewhere, somehow, your grandparents are disappointed in you.

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