I say it’s high time
(Makura wo tataku shite neru; “To sleep with your pillow high”)
Having nothing at all to worry about. Complete and utter peace of mind. Care-free and able to sleep easy.
This simple sentence begins with the noun 枕 (makura), “pillow,” marked by particle を (wo) as the object of the verb する (suru), commonly “to do” but in this case perhaps closer to “to make.” In between object and verb comes the adjective 高い (takai) in conjunctive form, which allows it to attach to and modify the verb. Suru is also in conjunctive form, which allows it to lead in sequence to the verb 寝る (neru), “to lie down” and by extension, “to sleep.” This appears in conclusive form.
寝る may be replaced with 眠る (nemuru, “sleep”) or 臥す (fusu, “lie down”). For what it’s worth, the original text uses 臥 while contemporary Japanese seems to strongly favor 寝.
This saying comes to us from the Zhan Guo Ce (『戦国策』, Japanese Sengokusaku, English Strategies of the Warring States), a collection of anecdotes set in the Warring States period. The story goes that Zhang Yi came to the king of Wei and used this line as part of an argument that he should ally with and become subject to Qin. Readers may recall that this was part of a broader, ultimately successful strategy by the Qin to divide and conquer the other Chinese states of the time. But… why was Zhang talking about pillows?
Supposedly, if you were in the field on a military campaign, you might rest your head on your quiver (most likely a flat box rather than the round tubes we tend to picture now) to more easily hear the sound of approaching armies transmitted through the ground. In peacetime, in contrast, you could pamper yourself with a more substantial (and thus “higher”) pillow because there was no need to be on guard.
(“Ichido de mo makura wo takaku shite nemuritai kedo, ima wa chimimouryou ga bakko suru jidai dakara muri ka na.”)
[“Just once I’d like to have the peace of mind for a good night’s sleep. But we’re living in a time when all sorts of ghouls and monsters just do whatever they want, so maybe it’s not possible.”]