(Nanatabi tazunete hito wo utagae;
“Search seven times, [then] doubt somebody”)
When you’ve lost something, make sure to search for it as thoroughly as you can before you start accusing people of having taken it. Don’t start casting doubt on people until you’ve searched and searched and searched and searched and searched and searched and searched, so to speak.
We begin with number-noun 七度 (nanatabi), “seven times,” followed by the verb 尋ねる (tazuneru), in conjunctive form. While this often means “ask” or “inquire,” in this case the meaning leans more toward “to investigate,” “to search for.” (The saying about avoiding doubt doesn’t demand that you start by grilling everybody!)
The second verb phrase, following the conjunction, begins with the noun 人 (hito), “person,” marked by the object-marker particle を (wo) as the object of the verb 疑う (utagau), “to doubt,” “to suspect,” in imperative form.
The first part of this saying may also be rendered as 七度探して (either nanatabi OR shichido sagashite) without any change in meaning. Another version ups the ante even more by taking it to 十遍探して (juppen sagashite), “search ten times.”
This saying comes to us from an Edo-period story called the 開巻驚奇侠客伝 (Kaikan kyouki kyoukaku den) by noted author Kyokutei Bakin (曲亭馬琴). This was apparently his retelling of a number of Chinese stories such as the Haoqiu zhuan (好逑伝, in Japanese Koukyuu den) and the Nuxian Waishi (女仙外史, Josen gaishi).
(“Yaba’, mata kasa nusumareta!” “Kono kasa no koto?” “…A’.” “Hora, dakara nanatabi tazunete hito wo utagaette iu daro.” “Gomen.”)
[“Oh, man, my umbrella was stolen again!”
“See, that’s why they say you’re supposed to check and double-check before you start blaming people.”