Here’s another famous one:
(Hana yori dango; “Dumplings before flowers”)
People value things that address their concrete needs over more abstract, artistic considerations. It is better for something to be profitable or beneficial than merely pleasing. Substance is more important than surface. …Alternately, a negative reference to someone who focuses overly on practical considerations and is lacking in aesthetic sensibilities.
Again we have a very simple phrase comprising two nouns and a connecting particle. 花 (hana) is “flower,” 団子 (dango) is a round ball of cooked rice flour, grain flour, etc. While commonly translated as “dumpling,” 団子 are often sweets in Japan, eaten together with sweet-bean paste, sauce, kinako flour, and so on, rather than the savory soup elements that dumplings often are in the West. The particle より has a possibly surprising range of meanings, but the one we’re interested in here is comparison or replacement, as in “A over B” or “A rather than B.”
The saying supposedly originates with people at 花見 (hanami, traditional spring sakura-flower-viewing picnic/parties) who preferred to focus on the refreshments rather than on the flowers that were ostensibly the focus of the occasion.
A popular girls’ manga from the 1990’s was titled with a pun on this saying, replacing 団子 with 男子, “boy(s).” Normally this word is pronounced danshi, but here the second character is read as ko, one of its other common pronunciations, which becomes voiced to become go, giving us 男子 = dango.
This kotowaza is the は entry in the Edo Iroha karuta set.
(“Wareware no mura wo sukutte kudasatte arigatou gozaimasu. Kokoro kara orei wo moushiagemasu. Kono kanshajou wo―” “Kansha nado ja nai! Kane, okane wo kure. Hana yori dango da zo.”)
[“Thank you so much for saving our village, sir. Please allow me to express our heartfelt gratitude. This letter of thanks―” “Don’t just thank me! Money, give me money. I need substance, not show.”]
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