The wascal of small minds

(Kabu wo mamorite usagi wo matsu; “Watching a stump, awaiting a rabbit”)


Being unable to advance because one is fruitlessly invested in old habits or customs, or in a strategy that was successful once but no longer applies. A foolish consistency; overblown and harmful conservatism. Waiting for a rabbit to ram into a tree-stump so you can collect a free meal.


This complete sentence ends with the verb 待つ (matsu) in conclusive form. The direct object of this verb, marked by the particle を (wo), is the noun 兎 (usagi), “rabbit.” This clause is parallel in structure (and in time) with the preceding one. For the introductory clause, the verb is 守る (mamoru), “to protect,” “to watch over,” this time in conjunctive form to facilitate the conjunction, with another を marking the noun 株 (kabu), a cut stump or stalk, as its direct object.


株 may be read as kuize, although this is less common. The entire phrase can be condensed down to the two-character compound 守株, shushu, or to a yojijukugo as 守株待兎 (shushu taito). And one variant replaces the sentence-final verb with 覗う (ukagau), “to await [an opportunity].”

This comes from a story in our friend the Han Fei Zi (Japanese 『韓非子』 = Kanpishi), an eponymous philosophical text, in which a farmer sees a rabbit collide with a tree stump and collapse dead, which allows him to pick it up and get some free rabbit meat. Instead of returning to work, though, he stays by the stump and continues to watch it in the hopes that he will be able to go on collecting rabbits. Compare and contrast 柳の下にいつも泥鰌は居らぬ.

Example sentence:


(“Osanai kodomo ga mina kabu wo mamorite usagi wo matsu you na kangaekata wo suru to iu koto ni tai suru shouko wa, nando mo aki mo sezu onaji joudan wo onaji hito ni kikasete waratte moraou to suru genshou ni aru darou.”)

[“I believe that proof that young children have a way of thinking akin to the meaningless preservation of old customs lies in the phenomenon where they will tirelessly tell the same joke to the same person, over and over again, in order to get a laugh.”]

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.
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