(Senri no michi mo ippo yori; “Even a road of a thousand ri, from one step.”)
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Even the most daunting undertakings begin with a simple action – and progress to the end through the accumulation of simple actions. Any task can be started with a small step using tools close to hand, so don’t get paralyzed by the idea that you need to start with something that’s out of reach. This is another expression of the idea that steady effort can overcome almost any obstacle – all one needs to do is begin, and then continue, to work.
This is technically not a complete sentence, but it can function as one with the addition, or assumption, of a final verb or copula. We begin with the number-noun combination 千里 (senri), “one thousand ri.” The associative particle の (no) connects this to the noun 道 (michi), “road.” This noun phrase is rounded off and marked with the particle も (mo), “also” or “even.” And finally you have another number-noun, 一歩 (ippo), “one step,” marked with the directional particle より (yori), “from.”
Apparently some versions end with から (kara) rather than より, although the meaning is unchanged. As noted above in the breakdown, some versions actually provide a verb, such as 始まる (hajimaru, “begin”) or 起こる (okoru, “occur”). It seems that versions with verbs tend to favor より for the particle.
Another borrowing from classical Chinese, this saying is derived from the final entry in a passage from Laozi in which a whole series of images along the same theme are given.
In a funny way, writing up this post reminded me of the feeling I had when I first decided to do this kotowaza project almost two years ago (!). That said, it’s not like I was intending a thousand-ri journey. I didn’t know how many posts I’d end up making; the vicissitudes of the fall semester could easily have killed the project. I just wanted to spend more time writing and more time engaging with Japanese. And yet here we are, still in the early stages of a 五十音 sub-project within the broader kotowaza-post series. I guess we’ll see where this goes from here!
(“Nana wa senri no michi mo ippo yori hajimaru no da kara to omotte, hikkoshi no daiippo to shite gomihiroi wo suru to kimeta.”)
[“Keeping in mind that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, Nana resolved to gather up any trash lying around as her first step to moving house.”]