(Hayaoki wa sanmon no toku; “Rising early is a three-penny profit”)
Waking up early in the morning instead of sleeping in leads to better health and a variety of other benefits. “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” “The early bird catches the worm.”
The topic, as marked by the particle は (wa), is the noun 早起き (hayaoki), comprising the noun 早 (haya), “already” or “early,” and the verb 起きる (okiru), “to wake,” in conjunctive form, which allows it to act as a noun. The comment on this topic is 徳 (toku), which these days is often used to mean “virtue,” but which can also mean “profit.” The particle の (no) associates the virtue with number-noun 三文 (sanmon), where 文 is a small unit of currency.
We’ve seen 三文 used before to signify a trifling amount of money, and some scholars say that originally the full saying was 早起きしても三文ほどの得しかない, “Even if you wake up early the benefit is a pittance,” but at some point the meaning flipped and now it’s only used to encourage early rising and scold someone who sleeps in.
早起き may be replaced with synonym 朝起き (asaoki), while toku may be replaced with homophone 得, “gain.”
This saying comes to us from a Qing-era text we’ve seen before, the 通俗編.
(“Hina, hayaoki wa sanmon no toku yo, mou okinasai.” “Datte, saikin no kenyuu ni yoru to, tiineijaa no karada wa otona yori, takusan no suimin ga hitsuyou rashii yo. Dakara, gyaku ni hayaoki wa… koban no son ja nai?”)
[“Hina, rising early is a three-mon profit, so please get up!” “But according to recent research, teenagers’ bodies need a lot more sleep than an adult. So isn’t it… rising early is a gold-coin loss?”]