Tidal waves just sneaking right up on ya there

天災は忘れた頃にやってくる
(Tensai wa wasureta koro ni yatte kuru;
“Disaster comes when it has been forgotten”)

Definition:

Don’t let your guard down, because disasters always seem to strike exactly when you’re doing just that. The last catastrophe has faded from memory, attention is focused on new problems, and old safeguards are being relaxed – and then when you’ve gone and made yourself vulnerable, the old disaster strikes again. You forget the last major earthquake or tsunami, and the next one strikes. You take drinkable water and breathable air for granted and dismantle the EPA, and suddenly your tap runs with heavy metals again. The generation that stopped fascism dies out, and their children put a new fascist in power. So even – especially! – when it seems like certain problems of the past have been overcome and put to rest, it’s imperative to continue guarding against them.

See also the four-character compound 油断大敵 and last Sunday’s kotowaza. The price of safety, as they say, is eternal vigilance.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 天災 (tensai), “(natural) disaster,” marked by the particle は (wa) as the topic of discussion. The next noun is 頃 (koro), “approximate time,” marked by the particle に (ni) as the time when something happens. What happens? やってくる (yatte kuru), “it comes,” with the “it” in question being our disaster. And at what approximate time does it come along? When 忘れる (wasureru), “to forget,” in past tense. Note that by adding yaru (in its conjunctive form yatte) to kuru, the latter verb changes from a simple arrival to one that has been approaching for some time.

Notes:

Some versions of this saying replace 災 (sai), “disaster,” with 害 (gai), “harm.”

This saying is attributed to physicist (and earthquake researcher), author, and essayist Torahiko Terada.

Example sentence:

「筋トレで怪我をして、一か月まるまる休んだけど、またやり始めたその次の日に全く同じ筋肉をまた怪我したんだ。マジだ不幸だ!」 「不幸じゃなくて油断だったんじゃない?天災は忘れた頃にやってくるっていうからね」

(“Kintore de kega wo shite, ikkagetsu marumaru yasunda kedo, mata yarihajimeta sono tsugi no hi ni mattaku onaji kinniku wo mata kega shitanda. Maji de fukou da!” “Fukou ja nakute yudan dattan ja nai? Tensai wa wasureta koro ni yatte kuru tte iu kara ne.”)

[“I injured myself doing weight training, but even though I rested a whole month, after I started again the very next day I hurt the exact same muscle! Can you believe the bad luck?” “Is it bad luck, or were you not careful? They do say that the next disaster strikes when you’ve forgotten the last one.”]

(Here we are on the very last day of the week, but as promised, here’s a make-up saying! Expect your regularly-scheduled Sunday kotowaza tomorrow!)

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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