What about when the roles are combined?

(Naku ko to jitou ni wa katenu;
“You can’t win against a crying child or the lord of a manor”)


You can’t win (an argument) against someone who doesn’t listen to reason, such as a crying child or a feudal estate steward. There are some battles you can’t win, so it’s useless to try to take them head-on. Infants don’t have the capacity for rational thought, and the powerful ignore reason in favor of their own whims, which makes them similarly implacable opponents.


We begin with the verb 泣く (naku), “to cry,” in prenominal form. This allows it to attach to and modify the noun (ko), “child.” This is followed by the particle (to), essentially “and,” connecting it to the noun 地頭 (jitou). This archaic term denotes a kind of government official placed in charge of managing an estate and collecting taxes – back in those barbaric, dark days when the super-rich idled around in sprawling private estates and shut-off enclaves and ignored the plight of the masses. (Specifically, we’re talking about the Heian and Kamakura eras.) The particles following these nouns are (ni), a directional particle probably best translated here as “against,” and (wa), which marks the entire preceding phrase (nouns and ) as the topic of discussion. Finally, as a comment on this topic, we have the verb 勝つ (katsu), “to win,” “to defeat,” in negative potential form (i.e. “can’t”).


This saying’s ending may be found with modern grammar (勝てない, katenai, instead of 勝てぬ) or as 勝たれぬ (katarenu). But replacing 地頭 with 地蔵 (jizou), the name of a bodhisattva whose stone likeness is found all over Japan, is considered an error.

Example sentence:


(Naku ko to jitou ni wa katenu to iu no de ano hito to ronsou wo sezu ni, seikou shisou na sakusen wo kangaedasou to ganbarimashou.”)

[“They say that there’s no winning against crying children and strongmen, so instead of arguing with that guy, let’s work on coming up with a strategy that seems likely to succeed”]

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

Nice while it lasted


Literally: dignity – conduct – direction – correct

Alternately: Good morals, ethics, and deeds. Someone’s thoughts and actions both being beyond reproach.

Notes: 品行 on its own is “behavior,” 方正 on its own is “correct spirit and behavior,” or more literally, “proper direction.”

It was really, really pleasant having a leader who was not just ethical, but thoughtfully and carefully so, for nearly a decade. Already I miss the peace and stability of an administration full of good intent and free of greed and scandals. Thanks, Obama.


The joke is that some kid was supposed to fill in this compound on a test, but wrote 品川方面 (Shinagawa houmen, “Headed for Shinagawa”).

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

Ire makes me tire

What if you studied at a 短気大学?

(Tanki wa sonki; “A short temper leads to loss”)


People who let their tempers get the better of them end up making errors, getting into fights, and causing trouble, and ultimately do themselves harm. Anger leads to unforced errors or unnecessary conflict and thence to failure. It’s best to be patient and reserved in one’s dealings with others.


This entire phrase comprises two nouns and the particle (wa) connecting them. In this case, the particle draws a direct link between the two nouns. The first noun is 短気 (tanki), “short temper” or “impatience,” and the second is 損気 (sonki), a play on (son), “loss,” “disadvantage.”


損気 is a word coined specifically for this saying by playing off of 短気, and is rarely found in any other context. In general, 損 can be used on its own.

Example sentence:


(Tanki wa sonki, ano ikkansei wo shiranai seijika wa kekkyoku boketsu wo hotta.”)

[“A short temper hurts you, and in the end that erratic politician dug his own grave.”]

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

Also about good posture

“And you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.”


Literally: go / walk – reside – sit – lie down

Alternately: The four fundamental activities: moving about and staying in place, sitting and lying down (to sleep). By extension, everyday life; normal day-to-day activity. All the time, “day in, day out.”

Notes: The can also be written as , with exactly the same pronunciation and meaning.

This compound is apparently derived from a Buddhist chant known as the “Contemplation on the Mind-Ground” sutra (心地観経, shin.ji.kan.gyou). These four activities or states are also referred to as the 四威儀 or 四儀 (both pronounced shigi), the “four postures.”


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


(Okite hanjou nete ichijou; “Half a tatami awake, one tatami asleep”)


People should be satisfied when they have enough to live on, instead of hungering for unnecessary wealth and rank. There’s no point in chasing unreasonable levels of wealth. No matter how large your house is, you only use a half-mat area (about a square meter) to stand and a one-mat area (about two square meters) to lie down and sleep.


Again we have a repeated pattern rather than a proper sentence, lacking even in particles. We begin with the verb 起きる (okiru), “to wake,” in conjunctive form. This is followed by the prefix (han), “half,” and the noun (jou), a tatami-style flooring element (and an area of about 1.65 square meters). The repetition gives the verb 寝る (neru), “to sleep,” “to lie down,” again in conjunctive form, and replaces with (ichi), “one.”


The ultimate source of this saying supposedly lies in the Hanshi Waizhuan, a 2nd-century (BCE) collection of anecdotes and commentaries illustrating points made in an earlier text called the Book of Poetry or Book of Songs.

Example sentence:


(“Kekkyoku no tokoro, okite hanjou nete ichijou da to omoi, boonasu wo muda ni oikakeru no wo yamete mainichi rokuji kara uchi no ko no sewa wo suru koto ni shita.”)

[“In the end I decided that I was making enough money and didn’t need any more, and quit my pointless pursuit of the bonus in favor of taking care of the kid, starting from 6pm, each day.”]

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

A wish for 2017


Literally: not – lean – not – faction

Alternately: Impartial. Unbiased. Neutral. Independent. Moved by facts, reason, and what is right and true rather than partisan bickering or blind loyalties.

Notes: This compound comes from a text called the Mozi (墨子) and describes one of the ideals of Mohism, a largely-lost ancient Chinese philosophical movement that (to a degree) opposed Confucian ideas in favor of self-aware reflection and impartial, universal love for humanity.

It’s also one of many yojijukugo of the pattern 不〇不●, which I find interesting for no clear reason.


The only image-search result that really made me stop and think.

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

Magic Monday – The Ultimate Duck Whistle

Call Beast

Some beings are so powerful that merely invoking their names is enough to draw their attention. Most of the time this attention is brief and inconsequential, but many beings can be enticed to appear physically by appropriate ceremonies or promises. While this is rarely recommended, some magicians are desperate, arrogant, or even well-prepared enough to call one. Knowing this simple spell means knowing the basic mechanics of calling a legendary beast or minor deity… the specifics of what most appeals to each and how to negotiate with them if and when they arrive are another matter entirely. Anything capable of noticing its name being used will also be well-equipped to enforce its will on the situation after it has arrived, and few such creatures or gods are automatically friendly to humanity.

Each specific being has its own Call Beast spell. The base difficulty is d8 and the base cost, a single point of strain, but these may vary depending on the specific entity being summoned. (Many Calls will also have unique requirements, such as a full moon, solstice, a particular location, gifts or sacrifices, and so on.) The caster may choose perform a harder version of the spell, because each degree of success achieved on the casting will decrease the difficulty of any checks dealing with the creature after it has arrived, such as making the proper sorts of offers in negotiation or casting other spells to contain and control it.

Posted in Rules, World-Building | Tagged , , | Leave a comment