This kotowaza brought to you by Ed Sheeran


(Taigan no kaji; “Fire on the far shore”)


Somebody Else’s Problem. Something that doesn’t impact you in any way; “No skin off my nose.” Like a fire seen from the opposite shore of a body of water, from which the viewer is completely safe.


This simple idiomatic noun phrase connects two compound nouns using the associative particle の (no). The primary noun is 火事 (kaji) “fire” (in the sense of a thing burning that shouldn’t, not an intentional flame like a campfire or cooking fire), and the dependant noun that modifies the fire is 対岸, (taigan), “opposite shore.”


This saying also has several variations, such as 川向こうの火事 (kawa mukou no kaji), “a fire on the other side of a river.” Some variants replace the fire with 喧嘩 (kenka), “fight” or “argument.” A closer variant simply replaces 火事 with synonym 火災 (kasai).

Example sentence:


(“Kono yo no arayuru hito・mono・goto wa tsunagatteiru yue ni, shin no imi de no taigan no kaji to ieru joukyou wa nakarou.”)

[“All things, and all people, in this world are connected; therefore, there cannot in any true sense be a fire too far away to burn you.”]

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

Pride cometh

Every castle is undefeated… for some while!


Literally: difficult – attack – not – fall

Alternately: Nigh impervious to assault. Difficult even to attack, much less to actually bring down, like a near-impregnable castle. By extension, a situation where things don’t go as planned, expected, or desired.

Notes: Sources suggest that this compound was formed in the Sengoku period, and note wryly that few of the era’s supposedly-invincible castles remained undefeated.


Kumamoto Castle, which bills itself as Japan’s most 難攻不落 fortification.

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

Butter, no; steel, yes

(Shuukou kin wo tokasu;
The mouths of the masses melt metal.”)


Rumor and slander tend to get worse as they spread. The power of many people all talking about something is to be feared, because even correct information has a tendency to get altered or distorted. The phrase invokes the terrifying power of a smelter, which can reduce even strong metals to liquid.


We begin with compound noun 衆口 (shuukou), literally “the mouth of the masses,” i.e. something that many people are talking about. A possible clarifying particle is elided, and we move straight to a verb phrase. This is the verb 鑠く (toku), “to melt,” with the particle を (wo) marking the noun 金 (kin), “gold,” or by extension “metal,” as its direct object. The verb appears in imperfective form, with causative suffix す (su), in sentence-final form.


This saying comes to us from the Discourses of the States (國語, in current Japanese 国語, Kokugo), a 4th century BCE compilation of speeches (“discourses”) attributed to various famous historical figures.

The character 鑠 is no longer in common usage and may be hard to produce by typing. It looks like it can be replaced by near-synonymous homophone 爍 (near-synonymous because 鑠 carries a secondary meaning of “charmed, captivated,” while 爍 carries a secondary meaning of “to shine”). None of my sources use 鎔 or 熔, the moderns character for “melt [metal].”

Example sentence:


(Kaji-kun wa koushoku ni tsuite kara sugu ni uwasa no osoroshisa wo shiri, shuukou ni wa kin wo tokasu hodo no chikara ga aru to satorimashita.)

[After taking public office, Kaji quickly became acquainted with how frightening rumor is, and came to realize that public discussion can have the power of a blast furnace.]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seal up your lips, and give no words

But mum!


Literally: other – say – no – use

Alternately: “Don’t talk about this to anyone.” “Loose lips sink ships.”

Notes: 言 may also be pronounced gen.

In contrast to the aphoristic nature of most yojijukugo, this one is a direct imperative – a trait it shares with other phrases ending in 無用.

Mean rabbit making shhh face

The rabbit’s name is Shouta (翔太)? Don’t tell anyone, though.

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

Castles in the (hot) air

(Kuchi de wa Oosaka no shiro mo tatsu;
“Even Osaka Castle can be built in words”)


Mighty deeds are easy to talk about, but hard to actually accomplish. “Easier said than done.”


We begin with the noun 口 (kuchi), “mouth,” followed by particle で (de), indicating “the means by which an action is performed,” then topic-marker は (wa), probably here serving a contrastive function. This is followed by noun 城 (shiro), “castle,” connected by associative particle の (no) to proper noun 大阪 (Oosaka), i.e. “Osaka.” This noun phrase is followed by emphatic particle も (mo), “also” or “even,” and finally the verb 建つ (tatsu), “to be built,” in sentence-final form.


One variant replaces the castle with… a town? The part after は may be replaced with ~親船も造る (~oyafune mo tsukuru), and while the term 親船 looks like it should mean “mothership,” a quick search suggests that it’s mostly associated with a town named Oyafune. See also 口自慢の仕事下手 and 不言実行.

Example sentence:


(Kuchi de wa Oosaka no shiro mo tatsu to iwarete mo… keikaku wo jikkou ni utsusu tame ni wa, somosomo keikaku wo tatenai to nani mo susumanai ja nai desu ka? Mazu wa keikaku no bureinsutoomingu wo sasete kudasai.”)

[“Even saying that words are just pie in the sky… if you don’t have a plan in the first place, you don’t have anything to implement, right? Please let me do some brainstorming first.”]

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

A long and winding situation


Literally: crouch – too much – bend – fold / fracture

Alternately: 紆余 refers to something, especially a road, being full of twists and turns. 曲折 similarly refers to something being bent or zig-zag. Put them together and you get a compound that describes an intricately complicated situation; especially a problem or decision that ties into other issues and will take a lot of time and trouble to resolve – if any decision is ever reached at all.

Notes: Replacing 折 with homophone 節 (“node”) is considered an error. However, replacing 紆 with homophone 迂 (“roundabout way”), while rare, is acceptable.


Adrenaline! From this page describing some drama surrounding the discovery of adrenaline… but I like to think that it came up in my image search because 紆余曲折 also describes the shape of the molecule.

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

High fructose corn syrup and lasers!

More mildly, Stevia and sharpened spoons?

(Kuchi ni mitsu ari hara ni ken ari;
Honey in the mouth and a sword in the gut”)


Saying things that sound good, but secretly harboring malice or enmity. Honeyed words and ill intent. Using pleasing words to make someone happy and create a sense of closeness while secretly hating them or ultimately meaning to do them harm.


What we have here is a pair of parallel verb phrases. The first begins with the noun 口 (kuchi), “mouth.” This is followed by the noun 蜜 (mitsu), which denotes sweet fluids such as honey, nectar, molasses, etc. The 蜜 is followed by the verb あり (ari), “to be,” and preceded by the particle に (ni), which marks the mouth as the location in which the nectar bes, so to speak.

The second verb phrase follows the same pattern, with verb あり denoting the existence of noun 剣 (ken), “sword,” and the particle に locating its existence at noun 腹 (hara), “stomach.”

The fun part about the verbs here is that the form they appear in can be either conjunctive or sentence-final. The first one is clearly the former, but the second could be either, depending on whether the overall saying is used on its own or as part of a longer sentence.


This comes to us from the Zizhi Tongjian (資治通鑑, in Japanese Shiji tsugan), an 11th-century CE Chinese historiography by famed scholar Sima Guang (司馬光, in Japanese Shiba Kou). Supposedly the phrase was coined to describe Li Linfu (李林甫, Japanese Ri Rinpo), a minister who flattered the emperor while undermining anyone he saw as a rival, to the overall detriment Tang regime that he was supposed to be serving.

Example sentence:


(“Oseji ni shoushin de mukuiru shachou wa, jiki ni kuchi ni mitsu ari, hara ni ken aru renchuu ni kakomare, jibun no shikkyaku wo manuku darou sa.”)

[“The company president who rewards flattery with promotions is soon surrounded by those with honey on their tongues and daggers in their hearts, and so invites his or her own downfall.”]

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