This week’s kotowaza was brought to my attention by a friend, who used a related version (see Notes) in a Facebook post a while back.
(matsu ma ga hana; “the time spent waiting is a flower”)
Anticipation is often better than the event itself. Looking forward to something is often better than getting it. Shopping is better than owning. The day before a festival is often happier than the festival itself, because the festival is perfect up until reality intrudes. Of course a “flower” is just an image to express “the best time” or “the best part” rather than a literal flower.
We start with the verb 待つ (matsu), which is generally translated as “wait” but here carries a connotation of anticipation. The verb, in “dictionary” form, modifies the noun 間 (ma, “interval; span of space / time”). This noun phrase is marked with the subject-marker particle が (ga) and followed by the noun 花 (hana, “flower”). Of course this “flower” is an image to express “the best time” or “the best part” rather than a literal flower.
This saying is not a full proper sentence. That would require a copula or similar element – in modern grammar some form of だ (da), である (de aru), or the like, or in classical grammar probably なり (nari).
This saying came to my attention when a friend used the synonymous phrase 見ぬが花 (minu ga hana; “the unseen is a flower”), but this version is more common in the kotowaza dictionaries I consulted. Closer variants such as the contracted 待つが花 (matsu ga hana) are also possible.
Now that I think about it, this saying stands in an interesting counterpoint to the far more famous 花より団子 (hana yori dango).
(“Yukko wa sa, hotondo mainichi hon’ya-san de tanoshisou ni nansatsu mo no hon wo te ni totte miru no yo. Na no ni, metta ni kawanai no. ‘Matsu ma ga hana‘ wo jisshi shiteru kamo.” “Iya, tada tachiyomi shiterun ja nai!”)
[“You know Yukko*; almost every day she goes to the book store and looks through a bunch of books. She seems to really be enjoying herself, but she almost never buys anything. I guess she’s practicing what they preach when they say that anticipation is better than having.” “No way; she’s just reading books in the store!”]
* A nickname for a girl’s name more properly rendered as Yuuko; often written 優子 or 裕子.