Wagahai wa Sam de aru

(Uma ni wa notte miyo hito ni wa soute miyo;
“Try riding a horse; try accompanying a person”)


It’s often difficult to understand the true nature of something without experiencing it firsthand, so don’t criticize or judge until you’ve tried something out for yourself. You don’t know the quality of a horse until you’ve tried riding it; you don’t know the quality of a person before you’ve seen how they behave. “Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes,” but also “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” or “don’t know it ‘til you’ve tried it.”


This saying is a pair of parallel phrases.

In the first phrase, the primary verb is 乗る (noru), “to get on,” or by extension, “to ride,” in conjunctive form. It’s followed and connected to the verb みる (miru), “to see,” or by extension, “to try something out and observe the results,” this time in imperative form. The particle に (ni) specifies the verb’s location or target as the noun 馬 (uma), “horse,” and the particle は (wa) follows ni to create a contrast and strengthen the parallel structure of the saying.

In the second phrase, the primary verb is 添う (sou), “to meet” or “to accompany.” As before, the verb is in conjunctive form and followed by an imperative form of miru; again preceded by a locative ni and contrastive wa. In this case, the noun is 人 (hito), “person.”


This kotowaza allows for a number of variations. It’s considered acceptable to switch the order of the phrases, to replace 添う with 会う (au, “to meet”), or to replace 乗って with 乗りて (norite), a grammatically equivalent form closer to classical grammar, and so on.

The grammar in this one is kind of wonky. I glossed over it above, but 添うて is not what I would have expected for a conjunctive formation of 添う. The classical grammar that gives us 乗りて should produce 添いて, while the more modern grammar that gives us 乗って should produce 添って. It took some searching before I found that 添うて is an example of ウ音便 (u-onbin), i.e. a “euphonic shift to u,” and in this case is an intermediary stage between the classical and modern forms. The same shift is also responsible for 会うて, as seen in the previous paragraph, as well as further examples such as 思うて and 問うて.

This saying apparently comes to us based on a passage in our friend 『毛吹草』 (Kefukigusa).

Example sentence:


(Uma ni wa notte miyo hito ni wa soute miyo to iu kara, kotoshi wa natsuyasumi no aida, shumi ni awanasasou na hon de mo mazu wa yonde miyou to omou.”)

[“They say you’re supposed to try things for yourself before judging, so during summer vacation this year, I think I’ll try reading some books that don’t seem like they’d match my tastes.”]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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