Beasts at the gates!

(Zenmon no tora koumon no ookami;
“A tiger at the front gate, a wolf at the rear”)


“Out of the frying pan, into the fire.” While you were driving away a tiger at the front gate, a wolf came in the rear gate. No sooner do you escape one misfortune than you run into another. Compounded troubles. A pincer attack. A situation that even a hero could not hold up against.


This kotowaza is simply a pair of noun phrases in the AB pattern; in this case is associative. (Which means that the English rendition “at” is not strictly a representative or equivalent to the Japanese grammar.) In each phrase (mon) is “gate,” as in the gate of a traditional estate or compound; 前門 (zenmon) is the front gate and 後門 (koumon) is the rear. The animal at the front gate is (tora), “tiger,” and the animal at the rear is (ookami), a wolf.


In older script, the phrase would be written without a comma, which is after all a Western import. And this is a very old phrase; it seems to be derived from 「前門に虎を拒ぎ後門に狼を進む」, “Warding off a tiger at the front gate; advancing a wolf at the rear gate,” which itself descends from a work called (in Japanese) 評史 (hyoushi) by a Chinese writer called (again, in Japanese) 趙弼 (Chouhitsu).

Example sentence:


(“Gakki no owari ga chikayoru to, dondon isogashiku natte oitsumeraremashita. Ronbun mo aru shi, gakusei-tachi no essei no saiten mo aru shi, zenmon no tora, koumon no ookami to iu joukyou desu.”)

[“I’m increasingly pressed for time as the end of the semester approaches. I have my own thesis to work on, and I have to grade the students’ essays. It’s like I’m caught between a tiger and a wolf.”]

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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1 Response to Beasts at the gates!

  1. Pingback: The attack of Not A Number | landofnudotcom

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