Not All Bad

Continuing last week’s oni theme:

渡る世間に鬼は無し
(Wataru seken ni oni wa nashi; “Across the world, there are no demons.”)

Definition:

Nobody in the whole world is an oni – i.e. a purely malicious being. “There is kindness to be found everywhere” Alternately, not all people are evil. There is no need to distrust every single person you meet.

Breakdown:

First is the verb 渡る (wataru; to cross; to span) – acting to modify the noun 世間 (seken; the earthly realm, human society). (ni) is a particle indicating, in this case, location (e.g. “within”). Oni is as it was last week – a malevolent mythical monster (and grammatically, a noun). Wa is our topic particle. In this case one could argue that there is a contrastive nuance – in this world there are no oni, but in the Buddhist hells or other unearthly realms there are plenty of them – but I feel that the feeling is emphatic rather than simply contrastive. Finally, 無し (nashi) is an adjective of negation in sentence-final form.

Notes:

In contrast to last week’s use of oni as an exemplar of physical strength, there are quite a few kotowaza that turn on the oni‘s reputation for being malevolent to humanity, even nasty for the sake of nastiness. The creatures are, of course, used as a metaphor for people whom you wouldn’t want to meet, but here we have an optimistic affirmation of basic human goodness.

無し can be rendered in a more modern way as 無い (nai) with no change in meaning, although the feel of the former is more deliberately archaic or formal.

A more dramatic version of the phrase goes 地獄にも鬼ばかりはいない (Jigoku ni mo oni bakari wa inai); “Even in hell it isn’t only demons.”

Example sentence:

「酷い目に遭って、絶望しそうでしたが、田村さんに色々手伝って頂き、本当に渡る世間に鬼は無しだと思いました」

(“Hidoi me ni atte, zetsubou shisou deshita ga, Tamura-san ni iroiro tetsudatte itadaki, hontou ni wataru seken ni oni wa nashi da to omoimashita.”)

[“Some bad stuff had happened to me, and I was about to lose hope when Tamura-san helped me out with all sorts of things. And I thought, nobody is all bad after all.”]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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2 Responses to Not All Bad

  1. E.June says:

    This is a famous Japanese proverb which come to mind every time I see a cute loli oni in an anime. It explains why I prefer Shinto where even the villains are usually just people with another perspective/ motive and who are partly good or just amoral, unlike monotheistic religions like Christianity which have simplistic dualistic tendencies of separating all things into good and evil in order to explain why Satan is considered worse than Hitler and deserving of neither justice nor empathy even though Yahweh killed millions or billions more and damned them too.

    Only sadistic psychopaths are an exception, and I don’t know enough to say if they too can’t be reached, and are incapable of doing good, or if we will never find a cure for that neurological condition. I like how anime usually gives the opposing side relatable reasons.

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