Does it flip when you’re old?

(Shounen oiyasuku gaku narigatashi;
“For a youth to age is easy, and to become a scholar is hard”)


People should study hard when they’re young, because time is precious and fleeting. When you’re young you feel like you have all the time in the world to get stuff done in, but then you’re old before you know it. Seen from another angle, study is hard, so it’s best to get a good head start on any skill or knowledge set that you really want to master. The original context goes on to suggest that even a little study every day adds up over time – hardly a new concept – which perhaps reduces the bleak sense of “not enough time” that the kotowaza on its own may invoke.


We begin with the noun 少年 (shounen), literally “few years.” The term is most commonly used to refer to boys or young men, but here it refers to young people in a more universal sense. This is followed, with any particles elided, by the verb 老ゆ (oyu), “to age,” in conjunctive form. This allows it to act like a noun, attached to and modified by the adjective 易し (yasushi), “easy.” The adjective is also in conjunctive form, allowing the first clause to connect to the second.

The second clause begins with the noun 学 (gaku), “learning.” Again this is followed, without particles, by a verb – 成る (naru), “to be” or “to become,” again in conjunctive form and again modified by an adjective – 難し (gatashi), “difficult.” This one is in sentence-final form.


This saying comes to us from the Ŏu chéng (偶成, in Japanese Guusei), a poem by 12th Century CE Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi (朱熹, Shu Ki).

Example sentence:

「君、宿題は罰などじゃない。少年老い易く学成り難し、毎日少しずつ勉強するのが自分の成長のためだ」 「それなら、ガクになりたくないなら休んでもいいってこと?」 「生意気!」

(“Kimi, shukudai wa batsu nado ja nai. Shounen oiyasuku gaku narigatashi, mainichi sukoshi zutsu benkyou suru no ga jibun no seichou no tame da.” “Sore nara, gaku ni naritakunai nara yasunde mo ii tte koto?” “Namaiki!”)

[“Kid, homework isn’t a punishment. Life is short and learning is hard, so studying a little every day is for your own sake!” “In that case, if I don’t want to be learned, I can take a break?” “Don’t be fresh!”]

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Literally: open – mouth – one – [ordinal counter]

Alternately: The first thing out of someone’s mouth. The very first thing someone says when they start talking. Alternately, to start speaking suddenly and without warning.


The title of the first episode (appropriately enough) of the Durarara!! anime. It looks like every episode’s Japanese title is a yojijukugo, actually.

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The other big one is wearing socks on hardwood floors

(Namabyouhou wa ookega no moto; “Green soldiering leads to great harm”)


To do things with an incomplete or half-baked set of knowledge or skills is to invite failure. “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep.” Going into battle with so-so fighting skills is liable to just get you hurt, and the same principle extends to other fields of endeavor.


We begin with nominal prefix 生 (nama), “raw,” or by extension “inexperienced.” This is attached to, gives an initial voicing to, and modifies 兵法 (hyouhou), literally “soldier law” but more generally referring to strategy, tactics, or other martial arts. This entire noun phrase is marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa).

The comment on this topic is another noun phrase, although one can imagine an elided copula. We begin with nominal prefix 大 (oo), “large,” attached to and modifying the noun 怪我 (kega), “injury.” This is followed by the noun 基 (moto), “origin” or “source.” The latter is attached to the former by possessive particle の (no).


Moto may also be written as 元 or 本, or phonetically as もと, or replaced with synonym 疵 (kizu), . But be careful; it’s considered an error to pronounce 兵 as hei despite that being its most common reading in other contexts.

This phrase comes to us from a 16th-century kanazoushi text called the 清水物語 (Kiyomizu monogatari, “A Tale of Kiyomizu [Temple]”).

Example sentence:


(“Seken wo senjou da to katei shitara, namabyouhou wa ookega no moto dakara, seken ni hajimete deru toki wa aru shu no youjinbou mo hitsuyou darou.”)

[“If you liken the public sphere to a battlefield, and given that a rookie in battle is asking to get hurt, I’d say that when you first venture into the public sphere you need some kind of social bodyguard.”]

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Got sunshine, in a bag


Literally: big – peace – joy – day

Alternately: A good day for doing things. Specifically, 大安 was a very auspicious day under the old 陰陽 (Onmyou, Japanese style yin-yang) divination system, and this compound emphasizes this positivity by adding 吉日, “a good day.”

Notes: This one has a lot of different readings. 大 may also be pronounced dai; 吉日 may also be prounounced as kitsunichi or kichinichi. (Kitsujitsu doesn’t seem to be used in this yojijukugo, though.)

If you want to get lost in interesting historical trivia for a while, you can look into the Onmyou system a little more deeply. Vaguely equivalent to the horoscopes we know in the West, it was a shifting cycle under which certain times and directions were thought to harbor good energy, making them auspicious for starting tasks, running errands, making visits. Other times were bad, meaning you should lie low, and sometimes directions became bad, meaning you should avoid them. You see this popping up in things like the Tale of Genji, where the season, day, and even time of day might determine who you visited or whether you stayed at home. But even in 2018 you can find calendars listing auspicious days, or get fortunes at shrines, that reference this system.

Keen observers will notice that Tuesday, November 6th was 先勝 (senshou, although also sometimes pronounced sakikachi or sakigachi) is “lucky in the morning, but not in the afternoon” – i.e. a mixed bag of a day.


You can find the current onmyou calendar here, among other places.

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Promise: A toboggan anapest


At the top of a very tall hill a toboggan sits,
waiting for someone to ride it on down.

And I think to myself, every time I pass by,
that as soon as it snows I will take it to town.

As it sits on its hill, does it dream of the day
it will whistle and blur on its way down the slope?

By itself it can’t move, but that just goes to show
even those who must wait still can always find hope.

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Yoko ni nattara?

(Tourou no ono; “The mantis’ axe”)


The weak standing up to the strong, often with the implication that they didn’t really think through how great the difference in strength would be. A praying mantis that senses threat will rear up and wave its axe-like arms, even at foes who are many times larger than itself.


This simple noun phrases uses the associative particle の (no) to link the noun 蟷螂 (tourou, a rare Chinese-style-pronunciation term for what is more commonly known as kamakiri), “praying mantis,” and the noun 斧 (ono), “axe.”


Tourou may also be written as 螳螂. More importantly, the outsize foe being faced may be specified: 蟷螂斧を以て隆車に向かう – note the change in particles – (Tourou ga ono wo motte ryuusha ni mukau), “The mantis, holding an axe, faces a [large vehicle].”

(This is kind of tricky. The longer version may have fallen out of favor in part because 隆車 is simply not a Japanese word. A little searching returned results for modern motorbikes, cars, and ATVs… in Chinese. My sources say that the 隆車 is some kind of large wheeled vehicle, but anything more specific, or a proper English translation, is beyond the scope of this post.)

Anyway, the image of a praying mantis rearing and showing its hooks to an onrushing cart is a pretty evocative image of standing up to someone more powerful than oneself. Here’s to hoping it works out alright.

This saying comes to us from the Han shi waizhuan (韓詩外伝, in Japanese Kanshi gaiden), a sort of midrash to the Classic of Poetry.



Example sentence:


(“Katsute, kanemochi ni tachimukau mono wa wazuka no aida tourou no ono wo furutte kara tsubusareru kirai ga atta. Aa iu jidai ni wa mou zettai ni modoritakunai.”)

[“There used to be this awful tendency that anyone who stood up to the rich would stand against impossible odds and then be crushed. The last thing I want is to return to those times like that.”]

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A harder love

A harder love than frost

I love the autumn:
The smell of leaves’ new colors,
The golds, yellows, reds,
The play of warmth and coolness,
The wonder of birds in flight.

You are my autumn.
You are bright leaves on green grass.
You are sharp, fresh air.
You’re the pleasure of motion,
Bringing all these together.

You are that bright flame
Shielded tenderly from wind,
Touched to those bright leaves.
In the cool of the evening,
You are that strong, warm burning.

They say it’s an end,
A cold end to color, but
I love the autumn.
I love it knowing the cold,
Knowing what the fire is.

Reaching into flame,
Brown leaves of skin blow away
In cool autumn light.
Knowing, I reach out my hand.
Autumn – take it if you will.


(Another poem from the archives. Maybe I’ll tell you about it when you’re older.)
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