(Toranu tanuki no kawa zan’you; “Calculating the pelt of an uncaught tanuki”)
Making over-optimistic calculations. Building unreliable assumptions into your plans for the future. Making a budget that includes estimated profit from the sale of the fur of a tanuki you haven’t actually caught yet. Counting your chickens before they hatch.
This is a noun phrase in which all the other parts modify the final noun, 算用 (san’you), “calculation.” This is modified by attaching the noun 皮 (kawa), “animal skin.” The origin of the skin is specified by using the associative particle の (no) to connect it to 狸 (tanuki), the Japanese “raccoon dog.” Finally, at the start, we have a verb that specifies the state of the tanuki whose pelt is being calculated: 捕る (toru), “capture,” in imperfective form with the negative suffix ず (zu) in prenominal form.
The initial verb can also be written as 取らぬ, 獲らぬ, or phonetically as とらぬ, without any change in meaning or pronunciation. However, writing kawa as 革 – despite it being to a degree semantically and phonetically interchangeable with 皮 – is considered an error. The phrase may be invoked in abbreviated form as 皮算用.
Tanuki fur was apparently used in both winter clothing and writing-brushes, and a pelt could be sold for a high price. However, Japanese folklore ascribes to the species a variety of magical powers such as shapeshifting, so trying to catch one may be thought of as a somewhat daunting task.
One of my sources claims that this is the と entry of one of the iroha karuta sets. If so, though, it seems to be a nonstandard set.
(“Bonasu wo te ni ireru mae ni nani wo kaitai ka nante hanashi wa toranu tanuki no kawa-zan’you ni suginai to omou kedo….”)
[“I’d say that all that talk about what you’re going to buy, before the bonus money is actually in your hands, is nothing more than counting your chickens before they hatch.”]