(Jinkou mo takazu he mo hirazu;
“Neither burning agarwood incense nor loosing a fart”)
A person (or lifestyle) without any particular good or bad points; someone who causes no harm but is exceedingly mediocre. Someone with, metaphorically speaking, neither the complex, pleasing fragrance of high-quality incense, nor the unpleasant odor of a fart. Middle of the road.
This saying comprises paired parallel phrases. The first begins with the noun 沈香 (jinkou), “agarwood,” highly valued for its use in incense. Next comes the particle も (mo), which we’ll get back to later. The verb being applied to the agarwood is 焚く (taku), “to light (a fire),” in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu), here likely in conjunctive form.
The second phrase begins similarly with the noun 屁 (he, sounds like “heh”). This is acted upon by the verb ひる (hiru), “to expel from the body,” also in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu), this time in conclusive form.
The も particles actually work as a paired set here. Often the Aも…Bも construction will work as “both A and B.” In this case, with the negative suffixes, we should read it as “neither A nor B.”
Some versions specify the incense as 伽羅 (kyara), which is just the same agarwood under a different name, although often translated with alternate term “aloeswood.” It is also possible to replace the agarwood entirely with 線香 (senkou), a more generic term for “stick incense.” And hiru may occasionally be written in kanji as 放る. On the other hand, reading 沈 as chin, or writing taku as homophone 炊く (“to boil [rice]”), is considered an error.
This saying comes to us from a mid-Ero-era work of satire titled – and I am not making this up – 『放屁論』 = Houhiron, or A Theory of Farting. As of this writing, you can get it on Kindle for less than a dollar, or free with Kindle Unlimited.
(Sugureta riidaa wa tatoe donna ni sugureteite mo, nanika shippai ga attara, kibishii hikan wo ukezaru wo enai. Sono ippou de, ningen shikkaku no sagishi ga riidaa ni natte shimattara, jinkou mo takazu he mo hirazu, heiheibonbon na hito de sura mada mashi da to omoete kuru.)
[No matter how much an excellent leader excels, they meet with harsh criticism as soon as they make a mistake. On the other hand, if a con artist and utter failure of a human being becomes a leader, one comes to realize that even an utterly average person, without a single whiff of vice or virtue, would be so much better.]