(Nurenu saki no kasa; “(Opening) an umbrella before getting wet”)
Thorough advance preparation. Like opening an umbrella before any rain has even started falling. Prevention is better than cure; better early than late.
We begin with the verb 濡れる (nureru), “to get wet,” with negative suffix ず (zu) in prenominal formぬ (nu). This attaches to the noun 先 (saki), “before.” In turn, the entire noun phrase that we’ve seen so far is connected by the associative particle の (no) to the noun 傘 (kasa), “umbrella.” Rendered in a clunky literal fashion, the whole saying becomes a noun phrase along the lines of “umbrella of before-getting-wet.”
At first blush I assumed that this phrase was about opening an umbrella long before the rain, to check whether it works or even as practice to ensure that you know how to operate it. But the actual nuance is rather one of opening an umbrella as soon as one anticipates rain, rather than waiting for the drops to actually start falling. The idea is that if you wait until the last minute, then any mistakes will leave you wet, so it’s better to be walking along with an as-yet-unnecessary umbrella open above you, than to wait until the last moment and risk getting drenched.
This theme of cautious precaution is common, and there are a wealth of sayings that are considered synonymous with this, including at least a couple that we’ve seen before. Another one using the exact same pattern as 濡れぬ先の傘 is 転ばぬ先の杖 (korobanu saki no tsue), replacing “get wet” with “fall down” and “umbrella” with “cane.”
(“Nurenu saki no kasa wo sasou to omotte, akanbou ga mada haihai dekinai uchi ni shosai no iriguchi ni anzen geeto wo toritsukeru koto ni shita.”)
[“Thinking that I had better get ahead of the game, I decided to put up a safety gate in the study doorway before the baby could crawl.”]