A leaf on the wind; watch how it soars

一葉落ちて天下の秋を知る
(Ichiyou ochite tenka no aki wo shiru;
“A leaf falls, and one knows autumn”)

Definition:

Sensing something big coming on from a relatively minor hint. Understanding the future from the very first signs. Like realizing that fall is on its way after seeing the fall of a single leaf. In some, but not all, cases, this may specifically refer to presentiments of some sort of downfall.

Breakdown:

We begin with number-noun 一葉 (ichiyou), “one leaf,” particle elided but acting as the subject of the verb 落ちる (ochiru), “to fall.” This appears in conjunctive form and prefaces the action of the following clause. The particle を (wo) marks the noun 秋 (aki), “autumn,” as the object of this clause. Associative particle の (no) allows this noun to be modified by the preceding noun 天下 (tenka), which, if you recall, refers to the (mortal/material) world as a whole. And the verb acting on aki is 知る (shiru), “to know,” which appears in conclusive form.

Notes:

This saying comes to us from our friend, the classical Chinese essay anthology Huainanzi (Japanese 『淮南子』 = Enanji or Wainanshi), from the chapter on “discourse on mountains” (説山訓).

In keeping with this history, there are many variations on the basic phrase. Some specify that the leaf in question belongs to the 青桐 (aogiri, the Chinese Parasol tree), apparently known to start dropping its leaves relatively early; others condense the saying in various ways, for example, by eliminating the 天下 part or even the final verb.

Example sentence:

彼は一葉落ちて天下の秋を知ることを目指して些細な現象や出来事にやたらと敏感になったが、基礎的な知識の不足のため、再三再四失敗で終わった。

(Kare wa ichiyou ochite tenka no aki wo shiru koto wo mezashite sasai na genshou ya dekigoto ni yatara to binkan ni natta ga, kisoteki na chishiki no fusoku no tame, saisan-saishi shippai de owatta.)

[“Aiming for the ability to foresee big events from their first signs, he became excessively sensitive to even the most insignificant events and phenomena. But lacking any sort of foundational knowledge, his efforts ended in failure time and time and time again.”]

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.
This entry was posted in Japanese, Kotowaza and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s