Whether you’re a mother or whether you’re a brother, activity seeds, activity seeds.
(Inochi atte no monodane; “Stuff you can do thanks to being alive”)
Anything is possible if – and only if – you are actually alive to do it. This saying warns against courses of action that put your life at risk even if overall they seem beneficial and likely to succeed. No potential reward or profit is worth risking your life in trade. When in doubt, err on the side of survival.
This kotowaza is a noun phrase. It centers on the noun 物種 (monodane), literally “thing-seed” but in usage better translated as “origin” or “foundation.” The associative particle の (no) connects this noun to the verb phrase that modifies it. Said verb phrase begins with the noun 命 (inochi), “life,” followed by the verb ある (aru), “to be,” “to exist.” The grammar is a little unusual: the て conjugation normally marks the conjunctive form of a verb, but here its function seems to be to nominalize the verb phrase so that it can be linked to the following noun with the の.
This phrase may be contracted to 命が物種 (inochi ga monodane) or 命こそ物種 (inochi koso monodane), or extended in a playful way by adding 畑あっての芋種 (hatake atte no imodane), “potato seeds thanks to having a field.”
Despite the sound, the final dane is definitely “seed” and should never be read or used as a combination of the copula だ plus tag particle ね.
Contrast the caution of this saying with ones that urge bold action, such as 虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず.
This kotowaza comes to us from the works of 19th-century Kabuki playwright Kawatake Mokuami.
(“Inochi atte no monodane na no de, inochi ni kakawaru shigoto wa okotowari shimasu.”)
[“Since life is necessary for all other things, I respectfully decline a life-threatening job.”]
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