…murder thousands of your own citizens, if one of the things you’re supposed to plan for is an emergency situation!
(Enryo nakereba kin’yuu ari; “Without forethought, worry is forthcoming”)
If you don’t act and plan with an eye to the future, then worries and troubles will come sooner rather than later. Short-sighted tunnel vision will only cause harm, and this harm is not limited to the distant, abstract future: it will come soon.
We begin with the noun 遠慮 (enryo), in this case “forethought” or “foresight” – that is, due consideration for the future. As is often the case, particles are elided. This is followed by the adjective なし (nashi) in perfective form as なけれ (nakere), with the conditional suffix ば (ba), “when[ever].” The following independent clause is similarly composed of the noun 近憂 (kin’yuu), “nearby worries,” and the copular verb あり (ari), in conclusive form.
Many learners of Japanese know 遠慮 as a socially-oriented quality of modesty, tact, and forbearance for the sake of others, or of refraining from something. In this case, though, it works with the related meaning of “thinking ahead to the future.” Note that some people apparently read the 遠慮なければ clause as a rephrasing of the term 無遠慮 (buenryo), “selfish presumption,” “rudely saying and doing what you want without consideration for others,” which is clearly based on the social implication of 遠慮; keep in mind that for purposes of this saying, that interpretation is an error.
On a related note, those of you who tried looking up 近憂 probably didn’t find it in a normal dictionary; this is because it’s essentially a play on words: 遠 means “far,” and 近 means “near.”
While 近憂 won’t appear in dictionaries on its own, however, it does appear in the four-character compound 遠慮近憂 (en ryo kin yuu) – which has the exact same meaning and origin as this kotowaza, with only the presentation differing.
What is that origin? Why, it’s the good old Analects of Confucius, of course (『論語』, Rongo in Japanese), in the section 衛霊公 (Eireikou), on the foundation of proper morality for a public official. Yyyyyyup.
(“Enryo nakereba kin’yuu ari ga imi suru tokoro wa seikatsu joukyou ni yori kotonaru. Seito nara shintaku no keikaku ga hissu de ari, bijinesuman nara keiei keikaku de ari, seifu ni wa arayuru sainan ni taiou suru tame no keikaku de aru.”)
[“The meaning of the phrase ‘a lack of forethought brings trouble to the fore’ changes depending on one’s circumstances in life. For the student, a plan of studies is indispensable; for the businessman, a business plan; and for the government official, a plan for responding to every possible kind of emergency.”]