Fishing for tsuris


Literally: four – suffering – eight – suffering

Alternately: Deep distress, terrible hardship, anguish, malaise. The very bad feels.

Notes: You might think, as I did, that this phrase is nothing more than a doubling for effect, but it turns out to have esoteric Buddhist roots and carry an implication closer to “every possible kind of suffering.”

First, the 四苦 form another yojijukugo in their own right: 生老病死, shou rou byou shi, or “birth, age, sickness, death.” These are the four kinds of suffering that come automatically with living and can’t be avoided. To get eight, you add four more: the pain of being separated from those you love, the pain of meeting someone you hate, the pain of not getting something that you want, and the pain caused by the five skandha… for some reason they left out the pain caused by unwanted recursion.

One folk etymology puns on ku also being a reading of 九, “nine.” It claims that shiku is 4×9 (36) and hakku is 8×9 (72), and that adding them together gives you 108, a significant number in various Buddhist traditions. This connection seems to have been added after the fact, though.


It’s in a brand-new TV drama! コテキ兄弟と四苦八苦 just started airing in January of 2020. I’m going to call it “The Koteki Siblings and the Infinite Suffering”

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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4 Responses to Fishing for tsuris

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