(Yanagi ni yukiore nashi; “The willow is not broken by snow”)
Gentleness and flexibility may appear weak, but are actually stronger than hardness. The supple, drooping branches of a willow tree aren’t as impressive as the rigid branches of an oak or pine, but neither do they break under heavy snowfall. Knowing how to give makes you strong, while obsessing over “toughness” actually makes you easier to break.
We begin with the noun 柳 (yanagi), “willow tree,” followed by the directional marker に (ni), “to,” here filling a sort of attributive role. Next comes the noun 雪折れ (yukiore), comprising noun 雪 (yuki), “snow,” and verb 折れる (oreru), “to bend,” “to break,” in conjunctive form and acting as a noun. This noun is followed and modified by the adjective なし (nashi), “not,” in conclusive form.
Several variants replace 雪 with 風 (kaze), “wind.” In one case this is the only change, but there seem to be quite a few different versions, including the brief 柳に風 (yanagi ni kaze, “a wind in the willow”) and, equally, 風に柳 (kaze ni yanagi, “a willow in the wind”).
(“Wakai koro wa, inochi wo sashioite de mo jibun no risou wo taisetsu ni mamoru beki da to omotteita kedo, naganen ni wataru yo no naka no kansatsu no sue ni, yanagi ni yukiore nashi, rinki ouhen ni taiou suru shisei no hou ga ii kekka wo maneku to iu koto ga wakatte kita.”)
[“When I was young I thought that you needed to defend your ideals even if it meant laying down your life. But after long years of observing how the world works, I’ve come to see that the willow that bends does not break – that you get better results with a stance that adapts itself as necessary to circumstances.”]