Much travel makes the boatman hoarse

The American version: 車車車車


Literally: south – boat – north – horse

Alternately: Going from one place to the next without stop or rest. Always on the go. Wandering restlessly, or traveling busily.

Notes: This compound comes to us from our friend the Huainanzi (淮南子, Enanji or, less commonly, Wainanji). The southern parts of China have a relative plenty of rivers and lakes, so that boats are a preferred method of travel, while the northern parts have a good share of mountains and grasslands, which call for horses; combining the two gives an image of travel that covers the entire territory.

Flipping the order of elements to get 北馬南船 is also possible. This compound is considered to be synonymous with several others that indicate busy rushing about, e.g. 東奔西走.


In modern Japan, it’s “southern trains, northern trains”

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Magic Monday – Asëa Aranion

Hero’s Sleep (Knit Flesh Bind Bone)

Natural healing is slow and uncertain; this herbal magic accelerates the process dramatically, which in turn reduces the chances of infection or atrophy. The patient must drink an infusion of herbal medicine, after which they fall into a deep sleep from which they cannot fully wake until healed. The process goes most smoothly when the magician remains nearby, tending the patient and guiding the process with subtle and sometimes unconscious applications of magic. A skilled healer can also draw out and cure poisons and disease.

The difficulty of the magic itself is a mere d4, increased by one step for each additional patient being treated at a time. This is accompanied by a Medicine or Lore: Herbalism check for each patient with a difficulty of d8 – or the next die size larger than the number of HP to be healed, or the difficulty rating of any poison or disease to be cured, whichever is highest. This spell has a cost of one to prepare the infusion plus one per patient per hour; these costs cannot be reduced by increasing the difficulty. Attempting to meditate while also tending to the patients is possible, but increases the difficulty of the Concentration check by one step per patient.

Those under the effect of a Hero’s Sleep remain completely insensate to the world for a number of hours equal to the cumulative sum of the number of HP they needed to heal: one hour for one point, three hours for two points, six hours for three, and so on. A poison or disease adds a number of hours equal to the result from rolling its difficulty rating. A Sleep that isn’t tended and guided takes twice as long. Upon waking, the patient is hungry, light-headed, and somehow “loose” in the body, operating with their Str score and Endurance meter effectively halved for a span of time equal to the time they spent sleeping, after which their usual levels of vigor rapidly return.

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Making light of parental influence

(Oya no hikari wa nanahikari; “A parent’s light is seven lights”)


Children benefit from their parents’ fame, fortune, and status. This is less about hereditary succession to a position, or straight-up nepotism, than it is about the fact that a parent with resources (including intangible ones like contacts, name recognition, or education) is able to leverage these in various ways to make things easier for their children to get ahead in the world. Often this kotowaza is used for cases where the child’s abilities are lacking and wouldn’t be enough to get them ahead in the world without a boost from a parent’s aura.


This one starts in the center, with noun 光 (hikari), “light,” marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa). The kind of light being discussed is revealed by associative particle の (no), associating the light with noun 親 (oya), “parent.” And the comment on parental light is that it is number-noun 七光 (nana hikari), “seven lights.” In this case, the number seven shouldn’t be taken literally; it functions as an example number implying “many.”


On first sight what this reminded me of was hanafuda’s scoring system, which includes 三光, 四光, and 五光 combinations, but as far as I can tell the saying is unrelated.

This already-brief saying can be contracted even further to the noun phrase 親の七光 (oya no nanahikari).

It’s hard to say that something is “in honor of” Fathers’ Day when the nuance is largely negative, so let’s just say that “today’s theme was inspired by” the day instead. Here’s to all the dads out there trying to give their light to their children in a positive way.

Example sentence:


(Oya no nanahikari ni tayoritakunakute, gaigoku no daigaku bakari ni shutsugan shimashita.”)

[“Not wanting to rely on parental influence, I applied exclusively to overseas universities.”]

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Poetry. Poetry never changes.

What falls away is always?


Literally: not – simple / divination / change – flow – go

Alternately: One of Bashō’s principles for writing haiku: that the essence of haiku lies in both the unchanging (不易) and in that which changes with the times or situation (流行). The principle of always incorporating something new, but without forgetting the parts that do not change.

In an alternate interpretation, this compound comments on the immutable nature of change itself; the idea that change alone is constant.


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Bear little; bee large

(Chiisaku unde ookiku sodateru; “Birth small; raise large”)


It’s wise to bear a small child and then raise it large. A small baby tends to mean an easier birth, and a child who grows well tends to be stronger and healthier, so these are good states to aim for. By analogy, it’s best for a project or business to start small and grow steadily instead of trying to start out big and do everything all at once.


We begin with adjective 小さい (chiisai), “small,” in conjunctive form. This allows it to act as an adverb, modifying the verb that follows it. This is 生む (umu), “to give birth.” This verb phrase is followed by another, so umu also appears in conjunctive form so they can be linked into a single temporal sequence.

The second verb phrase is constructed similarly; it begins with adjective 大きい (ookii), “large,” in conjunctive form, followed by the verb 育てる (sodateru), “to raise,” in conclusive form.


It’s also acceptable to turn the final verb (and thus the entire phrase) into an imperative: ~育て (sodatero).

☆ The kotowaza dictionaries didn’t make it clear how one was supposed to plan or arrange the baby’s size at birth, especially in an age before ultrasound and other modern medical technologies.

Example sentence:


(“Shousetsuka ni naritai nara, mazu wa shiin ya sunbyou kara hajimeyou yo. Ikinari shiriizu nante taisaku ja nakute. Yashinmanman de ii kedo, chiisaku unde ookiku sodatero tte iu desho.”)

[“If you want to be an author, first start from scenes or vignettes and so on. Don’t jump straight into something big like a book series. It’s good to be ambitious, but they say you should start small and grow big.”]

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Three men CAN keep a secret

…if they’re tzaddikim and the secret is hidden helpfulness


Literally: yin/negative/shadow/secret – virtue – yang/positive/sunlight – reward

Alternately: Performing acts of benevolence and charity in secret will nonetheless benefit the doer. It’s tempting to publicize one’s good deeds in hopes of winning acclaim in society, but karma is sure to even (or especially) reward good deeds that are hidden from public knowledge.

Notes: Note also the post on 因果応報; good-aligned variant 善因善果 ( is considered a synonym of today’s compound.

This yojijukugo comes to us from our friend the Huainanzi (淮南子, Enanji or, rarely, Wainanshi), in the chapter on “In the World of Man” (人間訓, Ningen-kun).

I like this one because it accords well with the Maimonides’ hierarchy of charity (bottom of page), in which the second-highest level is “giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.” (The absolute best is considered to be charity that allows the recipient to become self-reliant thereafter; i.e. teaching someone to fish is better than any manner or volume of fish-donation.)


Rabbi Moses ben Maimon

(Picture attribution Blaisio Ugolino [Public domain via Wikimedia Commons])
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Like chopping radishes with Excalibur

(Daikon wo Masamune de kiru; “To cut a daikon with a Masamune”)


Overkill. Bringing force, talent, or material to a job or problem far in excess of what is actually needed; often, assigning a task to someone who is massively overqualified for it. Like using a legendary blade to chop vegetables.


We begin with the noun 大根 (daikon), a vegetable related to radishes whose name literally means “big root.” The particle を (wo) marks this noun as the object of the verb at the end of the phrase, 切る (kiru), “to cut.” And in the middle we have the particle で (de) marking the means by which the verb is performed; in this case, proper noun 正宗 (Masamune), a Kamakura-era swordsmith whose name is used metonymically to refer to one of the blades he made.


Gorō Masamune is a partially mythologized figure who is generally held to be the country’s greatest swordsmith of all time. Using any sword to cut vegetables would be ridiculous enough as it is; all the more so if it’s a masterpiece by a famous master.

Writing Masa with homophone 政 is an error; that’s just not how the guy’s name is spelled. On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to write kiru as 斬る, or rearrange things to get 正宗の刀で大根切る (Masamune no katana de daikon kiru).

Example sentence:


(“Kachou, sumimasen ga, Takada-san ni ochakumi da nante sonna dou de mo ii koto wo saseru no wa daikon wo Masamune de kiru hodo mottainai nja nai desu ka?”)

[“Chief, excuse me, but isn’t having Takada do meaningless little jobs like tea duty just a waste? It’s like using a Masamune to chop daikon.”]

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