(Raku wa ku no tane ku wa raku no tane;
“Ease is the seed of hardship; hardship is the seed of ease”)
If you spend all your time taking things easy, you’ll fall on hard times later on as a result; if you push yourself through problems or challenges now, things will be more stable later on and you can take it a little easier. Ease and effort are two sides of one system, and each feeds into the other. Get your work done early lest you regret it later.
We begin with the noun 楽 (raku), “ease,” “comfort,” marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa). The comment on this topic centers on the noun 種 (tane), “seed,” modified via the associative particle の (no) by the noun 苦 (ku), “suffering,” “hardship.” We may imagine an elided copula here; what follows is a parallel phrase that is almost identical, except that switches 苦 into the topic position, while 楽 becomes its seed.
The two phrases may be separated by a comma. More distant, but synonymous, phrases include 楽あれば苦あり (raku areba ku ari), “if there is ease, there is also suffering” – the ら entry of the Edo iroha karuta set – and 苦する良かろう楽する悪かろう (ku suru yokarou raku suru warukarou), “suffering, likely good; ease, likely bad.”
For me, this saying raises all sorts of complicated topics. It’s perfectly possible to have a life of ridiculous ease paid entirely for by the labor of others, for example, if you were born into wealth, and it’s all too common to have a life of hard work with little reward for many who weren’t. And the structure itself may call to mind the idea (which I find to be convincingly discredited here!) that “hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.” It’s likely best to think of this saying as simply an admonition to get your work done sooner, so that you may enjoy its fruits in comfort later.
(“Saikin, sainan tsudzuki de shindoi kedo, raku wa ku no tane ku wa raku no tane tte omoeba mada ganbaresou da yo.”)
[“Lately it’s just been one disaster after another and I’m wiped out. But as long as I keep in mind that ease fosters hardship while hardships foster ease, I can keep going.”]