Not the same chamberpot, though

(Onaji kama no meshi wo kuu; “To eat rice from the same pot”)


Leading the same lifestyle together and working together; going through good times and bad together; being extremely close friends. An intimate, familial sense of closeness that comes from shared experiences and activities.


We begin with adjective 同じ (onaji), “the same,” attached to and modifying 釜 (kama), a traditional cast-iron cook-pot. This is followed by the noun 飯 (meshi), “boiled rice,” or by extension “meal,” which is connected to the pot by the associative particle の (no). The rice/meal is marked by the particle を (wo) as the object of the verb 食う (kuu), “to eat,” which appears in sentence-final form.


同じ may be replaced, more or less synonymously, with 一つ (hitotsu), “a single.” However, replacing the particle の with で (de), “at,” is considered an error.

Example sentence:


(Onaji kama no meshi wo kutta osananajimi ni uragirareta to omou dake de, kuyashisa no kiwami da.)

[To even think that you might have been betrayed by one of your oldest, closest friends is the most painful thing in the world.]

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All sincerity

(No tricks)


Literally: intention – operate / fidelity – solid – harden

Alternately: Strict adherence to one’s principles and beliefs, or even to one’s chosen style in an art. Unwavering, uncompromising loyalty to an ideal.

Notes: Even though the meaning is similar, replacing 志操 with homophone 思想, “thought,” is considered an error. So is pronouncing 堅固 as kenko.

There are several other compounds that end in 堅固, all of roughly the same tenor as this, as well as a variety of synonyms using different terms.


It bothers me that this is an attack-type unit instead of a defense-type. Source: a little dungeon-crawler game called トリックスター:召喚士になりたい.

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A Flash of Feathers

(This bit of “flash fiction” was inspired by a writing prompt found on Reddit. It seemed to be fishing for a story about “How I got wings.” And I, apparently a bit of a contrarian at heart, decided to make it not a story about getting wings. In any case, it was a fun little exercise.)
[Warning: today’s post is rated PG-13 for strong language]

I almost didn’t remember the feathery stubs any more, in my day-to-day life.

My early childhood had apparently been a nightmare for my parents: doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit; careful inspection followed by exploratory inspection followed by borderline-malpractice inspection; experimental treatments; diet changes; the works. The minor surgeries they attempted were startlingly easy – we still have a photo of six-month old me smiling next to a whole row of bloody, bony, draggle-feathered nubs in a soiled steel tray – but ineffective, because they always grew back. (In fact, the rate they grew back at seemed to speed up as I got older.) My mother’s job actually fired her under pressure from their insurance provider (not that she could prove it, of course), and my parents flirted briefly with the idea of going public and monetizing my condition, but decided that that wasn’t a choice they had the right to make for me. Instead, they stopped trying to find a medical solution and focused on adaptation.

Which… thank goodness. I’ve only shown them to a handful of my closest friends, and that was stressful enough. I nearly lost Amanda entirely, she was so squicked out, and that was after I’d gone out of my way to show her on my birthday as a special confidence. Being a celebrity-slash-freak would have been infinitely worse.

After that, life was mostly normal, with just an added mix of planning and mild inconvenience. A doctor’s note so that I could spend gym class stretching and doing solo exercises instead of anything that would risk exposure. Fluffy sweaters in the winter and flouncy blouses in the summer. Posture training at home so I didn’t ever lean back in a seat long enough for them to hurt, or lean forward so much that the shape would show. I even discovered that with some concentration, they could be retracted a bit, pulled tight against my skin.

Did I mention that there are dozens of them? Did I mention that the color of the feathers, always a jumble, varies a little depending on the air temperature and on what I eat? My younger brothers and I experimented for a while when we were all in elementary school together, but when I got into middle school I had to actually get serious about homework, and anyway it didn’t seem so important any more that eating bag after bag of baby carrots turned the feathers just slightly more orange. I had other stuff going on in my life. I almost forgot about them.

And then.


I stopped forgetting.

This morning, on just my ninth day of high school, in the middle of algebra, I stopped forgetting the stubs. I think it was because that asshole Devin threw a wad of paper at his crush when Ms. Su’s back was turned, and hit me instead.

It’s not like it hurt or anything. Just a little bop against my ear, a reflexive rush of laughter across the room, a moment of surprise, a flush of embarrassment, a flash of annoyance.

And a sort of slipping, popping feeling from my back, under my flouncy blouse. And then – motion, a scrabbling, something scratching my back, and then everybody around me was freaking out and I was freaking out and that only made it worse because the more I freaked out, the more quickly the slipping, popping feelings came, and more scrabbling, and by this point bad things were happening to my blouse all up and down my back, I could feel it, and then the WHOLE FUCKING FLOCK managed to burst out – a couple of the smaller birds even escaped through my sleeves – and I just ran. I guess there were cardinals and wrens and jays and finches and at least one crow and I think a hawk that flew straight into Devin’s face, both of them screaming. I didn’t hang around long enough to really take a good look or watch the show.

So here I am in the bathroom stall in the dingy little one-seater in the hall behind the theater room. The stall door is locked, and the bathroom door has a chair wedged up against the knob, and the light is off, and I just realized that of course my phone is in its little pouch in my bag back in the room and I’m not sure I can ever go back to that room because… just… ugh.

When we were little kids, my brothers and I played super-heroes. Doesn’t everybody? They changed who they wanted to be with the fads: one day they were fighting over who got to be Mantis Man, the next time it’d be Vortex or Dextro. I always ended up as Angel, and in our fantasies my feathers had matured into wings of purest white, or scarlet, or gold, and I gained all the powers we could imagine for a watered-down seraph. There wasn’t a lot of variety, but it could have been worse.

Wait, it is worse. I spent my childhood imagining myself as some kind of undercover angel… but now, judging from the rate this bathroom is filling up, my only real power is to produce an indefinitely large number of birds. I’m Harvey fucking Birdman.


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Yertle take note

(Gan ga tobeba ishigame mo jidanda;
“When the goose flies, the turtle stamps”)


To try to mimic someone else without any understanding of one’s own limitations. Like a turtle who sees a goose taking off in flight, tries to fly as well, discovers that it can’t, and stamps its feet in childish frustration. The original usage seems to have a nuance of classist contempt for those who try and fail to act above “their station” in society. But, especially given the metaphor at work, it can easily be used in a more meritocratic critique.


We begin with the noun 雁 (gan), “wild goose,” marked by the particle が (ga) as the subject (doer) of the verb 飛ぶ (tobu), which appears in perfective form and is followed by the conditional suffix ば (ba). This clause is followed by another noun, 石亀 (ishigame), literally “stone turtle” but known in English as the Japanese pond turtle. This is marked by the particle も (mo) in its role as “also.” (The turtle is also grammatically a subject, but も overrides and replaces が.) And we end with another noun, 地団太 (jidanda), “foot-stamping.” This noun might normally be followed by the direct-object marker を (wo) and verb 踏む (fumu), “to step,” but these are elided.


The saying may be contracted further to just the noun phrase 石亀地団駄 (ishigame no jidanda). If you use this version, don’t forget the shift from も to possessive の. Some people may replace 駄 with homophone 太 without any change in meaning, although this is less common.

There are quite a few roughly synonymous sayings featuring various animal pairings – the goose and doves, frogs and the turtles, carp and loaches, etc.

This saying seems to be derived from a passage in the 『東海道名所記』 (Toukaidou meishoki), “A record of famous places on the Tōkaidō road,” a mid-17th-century CE kanazōshi.

(PS. Look up the etymology of 地団駄 some time; it’s fascinating.)

Example sentence:


(“Tashika, kodomo ga oya no mane wo shiyou to suru no wa aru shu no ishigame no jidanda da kedo, benkyou ni mo naru kara iin ja nai?”)

[“Well, kids trying to copy their parents is probably some kind of failure to recognize their own limits, but it’s fine right? It’s a learning experience.”]

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This will be the year of the boar, though

Not that the last couple of years haven’t seen their shares of poorly-educated and tasteless behavior….


Literally: one – dragon – one – boar/pig

Alternately: A saying that expresses the value of education. The difference between someone who applies themselves diligently to their studies, and someone who slacks off, is like that between a dragon (clever, powerful, successful), and a pig (shameless, dirty, not that bright).

Notes: This relatively rare yojijukugo comes to us from the writings of our friend, Tang-era writer Han Yu (韓愈, Kan Yu).

The 竜 may also be pronounced ryuu, or replaced with synonymous homophone 龍.


Being a boor is fine right up until someone roasts you into bacon.

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If you eggplant, it will call


(Naseba naru; “If you do it, it will happen.”)


A person can do anything if they really put their mind to it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The only way to get a thing done is to do it.


We begin with the verb 為す (nasu), “to attempt,” “to do,” “to accomplish,” in perfective form and taking the conditional suffix ば (ba); this is followed by the verb 成る (naru), “to become,” “to result in,” in sentence-final form.

An extended version adds the inverse and a further comment, ~為さねば成らぬ何事も. This also begins with 為す, except in imperfective form. This is followed by the negative suffix ず (zu) perfective form as ね (ne), followed by the conditional ば. Similarly, the second 成る appears in imperfective form and takes the negative ず, which in turn appears in the prenominal form ぬ (nu). This allows it to precede the noun 何事 (nanigoto), “something.” And finally we get the emphatic particle も (mo), effectively changing the preceding “something” to “anything.”

The longer form, then, reads as “If you do it, it will happen; if you don’t, it won’t, and thus for all things.”


The longer form of this phrase is taken verbatim from a poem by Uesugi Youzan (aka Uesugi Harunori), an Edo-period daimyo famed for returning a deeply-indebted domain to prosperity through a combination of financial discipline (for example, by cutting his own household budget by 86%!) and support for education and industry. The poem continues, but the two versions presented above are what appear in kotowaza dictionaries, and the shorter version is the more common of the two.

However, note that the basic 為せば成る idea predates Uesugi, dating at least to a similar poem by Takeda Shingen that Uesugi seems to have been playing on.

Some people replace 為す with homophone and near-synonym 成す. This is not considered strictly incorrect. However, the nuance of the former is “to do,” while the nuance of the latter is “to accomplish.” So replacement phrase 成せば成る becomes a mere tautology, “If you get it done, you get it done.” The original version is preferred because it retains the message of active effort leading to results.

Example sentence:


(Youta wa kouen ni tsuku to mohaya ikigire de kurushii omoi wo shiteita kedo, jumon no you ni, naseba naru, naseba naru to tsubuyaki nagara sanshuu hashitte mawaru to sukkiri shita.)

[Youta was already struggling and out of breath when he reached the park. But he managed to run three laps, murmuring If you do it, it gets done; if you do it, it gets done to himself like an invocation, and felt much better afterwards.


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Don’t be backhanded!


Literally: before – hand – certain – win

Alternately: Who strikes first, wins. The early bird gets the worm. This phrase may be used to espouse a “first strike” mentality as a general philosophy, or to describe the particulars of a situation that calls for quick and decisive action. Often, but not universally, used in combat situations or simulations such as martial arts or board games.

Notes: In the karate community, there’s a countering bit of wisdom that says 空手に先手無し (karate ni sente nashi): “In karate, there is no ‘first strike.’” This can be interpreted in different ways, but one of them is that it actually doesn’t matter who moves first. This might be because block-attack combos are the bread and butter of your style, or it might be because of the value of waiting for your opponent to show their intention and then attacking into their prep. But in any case, the only thing that really matters is not who starts the action, but who finishes it.


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