A galling surfeit of gall


Literally: big – liver/gallbladder / courage – non – enemy

Alternately: Being, or at least acting, completely unafraid. Acting as confident as someone without any (meaningful) enemies.

Notes: This is another compound comprising two near-synonyms. 大胆 is “brave(ry),” while 不敵 isn’t so much a lack of antagonists, as it is a state of being bold enough to not even acknowledge or recognize your enemies as enemies.

Although the phrase itself is relatively neutral, it may be used to obliquely criticize those whose courage mostly seems to spring from an overabundance of self-confidence or self-assertion.

Note that this phrase, and several related ones, come from an archaic belief that the liver (which contains the gallbladder) was the seat of not just courage, but of the soul itself, within the human body.


Crayon Shin-Chan? Oh, yes.

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When the juice hits your eye like a tiny pizza-pie…

…that’s-a karma

(Ten ni mukatte tsuba wo haku; “To face the heavens and spit”)


To attempt to harm others is to invite misfortune on yourself. What goes around, comes around. If you try to dirty the sky by spitting on it, the blob of spittle is just going to fall back down on your upturned face.


We begin with the noun 天 (ten), “the sky,” “Heaven,” marked by the directional particle に (ni). The first verb being performed skyward is 向かう (mukau), “to face (toward),” here in conjunctive form to allow for further verbs to be added. The second verb is 吐く (haku), “to spit (out),” in sentence-final form. The particle を (wo) marks as the object of the verb the noun 唾 (tsuba), “saliva,” “sputum.”


This saying will often be shortened to 天に唾する (ten ni tsuba suru, “to spit toward heaven”) or 天に唾す (ten ni tsuba su, same). In all cases, 唾 may also be read as tsubaki.

Apparently some people misinterpret the saying as referring to insolent behavior, and it’s easy to see why, but this is considered incorrect.

This saying comes to us from the Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters, a collection of aphorisms traditionally held to be the first Indian sutra translated into Chinese. The original Japanese rendition seems to have used the verb 仰ぐ (aogu, “to look up (at)”), and some versions of the phrase still use 天を仰いで (ten wo aoide, note the particle usage) rather than 天に向かって.

Example sentence:


(“Sono ko wa doukyuusei ni jibun no tsumi wo nasuri tsukeyou to shiteiru tochuu de tsukamatte, jibun no batsu ga omoku natta. Ten ni tsuba su koto wo yoku rikai shite, kimi mo jibun no koudou ni motto ki wo tsukete kuretara, sensei wa ureshii nda yo.”)

[“That kid was caught in the middle of trying to pin the blame for their own crimes on one of their classmates, and it made the punishment that much worse. I’d like it if you, too, learned that trying to harm others will harm yourself, and pay a little more attention to your own behavior.”]

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Samazama na arisama


Literally: three – person – three – manner

Alternately: Everybody is different. If you look at three people, you’ll find three different ways of thinking, three different ways of doing things.

Notes: The number three may be replaced by 各 (kaku), “each,” or by 百 (hyaku), “hundred.” Also compare and contrast with 十人十色.


The title of a manga/anime plays on this by changing 様 to homophone 葉, “leaf.”

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A useful skill for adulting

It’s easy, there’s a trick to it.

(Shintou wo mekkyaku sureba hi mo mata suzushi;
“When you empty your mind, even fire is cool.”)


The Buddhist teaching than any kind of pain or hardship can be endured with the proper mindset. Even being burned by fire can be made to feel cool and refreshing if you’re in a proper state of Zen. (Not recommended if you have any better options that don’t involve being burned, IMHO).


We begin with the noun 心頭 (shintou), “mind,” and mark it as the object of a verb with the particle を (wo). The verb phrase that follows comprises noun 滅却 (mekkyaku), “extinguishment,” and the verb する (suru), “to do,” in perfective form with conditional suffix ば (ba).

The following clause begins with the noun 火 (hi), “fire,” marked by the particle も (mo), often “also” but in this case with the nuance of “even.” This is followed by adjectival conjunction また (mata), “furthermore,” “on the other hand,” and finally the adjective 涼し (suzushi), “cool,” in sentence-final form.


滅却 may be replaced with 忘却 (boukyaku), “forgetting,” “consigning to oblivion,” or the whole phrase may be collapsed into the four-character phrase 心頭滅却 (shin.tou.me-.kkyaku).

This saying was made famous by Zen priest Kaisen, who supposedly uttered it while burning to death in an attack by Oda Nobunaga’s forces, but is originally attributed to a poem by Tang-era Chinese poet Du Xunhe (杜荀鶴, in Japanese To Junkaku).

Example sentence:

「地球温暖化に備えて座禅を組もうぜ」 「え、座禅?どうして?」 「心頭を滅却すれば火もまた涼しというから、どんなに暑くなっても涼しく感じられるようになるためさ」 「……」

(“Chikyuuondanka ni sonaete Zazen wo kumou ze.” – “E, Zazen? Doushite?” – “Shintou wo mekkyaku sureba hi mo mata suzushi to iu kara, donna ni atsuku natte mo suzushiku kanjirareru you ni naru tame sa.” – “……”)

[“Hey, let’s prepare for global warming by practicing Zazen.” – “Huh? Zazen? Why?” – “They say that when you achieve a Zen state, even fire feels cool, so we can feel cool no matter how hot it gets!” – “…”]

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The old razzle-dazzle


Literally: sing – dance – sound – melody

Alternately: Song and dance. Especially, a public performance of singing and dancing. More generally, performance or play using any of the flashy arts.


Many of the top results were for this troupe. Note that they add 劇 (geki, “drama”), and also invoke 奇想天外.

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Can’t squeeze water from a boiling stone

(Yakeishi ni mizu; “Water on a hot stone”)


A situation where you shouldn’t expect much. A drop in the bucket. A negligible amount of aid or effort, like a little splash of water against a hot stone, which quickly turns to steam and disappears without cooling the stone noticeably.


We begin with the verb 焼く (yaku), “to burn,” “to heat,” in prenominal form and prefixing the noun 石 (ishi), “stone.” The heated stone is marked by the directional/location particle に (ni) as the target of the noun 水 (mizu), “water.” One can imagine that a verb (such as 掛ける, kakeru, “to throw something against something”) follows, but any verb is elided in the idiom itself.


This phrase is apparently related to a 焼石 (yakiishi), a stone heated and placed inside a bowl of soup. Apparently one of these could be used to bring a meal to boiling without any need for direct heating from a fire, so it stands to reason that a little splash wouldn’t do much to cool one off.

The origins of this phrase are unclear, but possible sources I’ve seen cited include two 17th-century poetic treatises, the 世話焼草 (Sewayakigusa), and the 毛吹草 (Kefukigusa).

Example sentence:


(“Erai bengoshi wo yatotta ga, yakeishi ni mizu datta. Mushiro gyakukouka datta you na ki ga suru.”)

[“I hired a hot-shot lawyer, but it didn’t help at all. On the contrary, I think he made things worse.”]

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Work, save, work, go!

More effective but less fun than “eat, pray, love”? Nah, just parallel.


Literally: diligence – frugality – power – go / carry out (an action)

Alternately: Frugality and hard work. A modest lifestyle supported by copious elbow grease. From combining 勤倹, to work a lot and not waste money, and 力行, to give your utmost effort for something.

Notes: 力行 may be read as rikikou, ryokkou, or ryokukou without this being considered an error, although these readings are less common.


A common sight in Japanese schoolyards: A statue of Ninomiya Kinjirou studying on his own while carrying firewood. He’s an amazing figure who, among other things, invented community credit unions. Go read up on him NOW.

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