(Monzen jakura wo haru; “To spread a sparrow-net at the gate”)
For a place, especially a home, to feel desolate and deserted due to lack of visitors. When the entrance to your estate (because you are an aristocrat with a whole estate to manage, right?) sees so little traffic that you might as well use it to set up a net to catch sparrows in.
This simple phrase ends, and is made into a sentence, with the verb 張る (haru), “to stick [something to something],” “to spread [something out],” etc., in conclusive form. The particle を (wo) tells us that the verb takes a direct object, which is the noun 雀羅 (jakura), “sparrow net.” This may be compounded with and modified by, or simply located in space by, the noun 門前 (monzen), “in front of the gate.”
This comes to us from a story in our friend, the Records of the Grand Historian (Japanese 『史記』 = Shiki), in a comment about a court official whose supply of visitors and friends dried up after he was dismissed from his position. The specific choice of sparrows seems to be simply because they are often seen flocking and playing in an empty street.
It should come as no surprise that this saying can be expressed with the four-character compound 門前雀羅 (monzen jakura) on its own.
(“Bideochatto de tomodachi ya shinseki ni renraku ga kanou de mo, kodomo ga zutto issho de mo, yappari tokidoki monzen jakura wo hatta you na jijitsu ga jin to sashite kuru.”)
[“Even being able to video-chat with friends and family, and despite being together with the kids all the time, it’s only natural that every now and then you’d be pierced through by an awareness of the reality that the gate stands empty, as it were.”]