…and no thorn without its roses?
(Raku areba ku ari, ku areba raku ari;
“When there is ease there is hardship; when there is hardship, there is ease”)
Where there is pleasure, there will also come suffering or toil; where there is suffering or toil, there will also come pleasure. Life is not just unending good or unending bad times, but rather a mixture. All things come to an end; “this too shall pass.”
This appears to be the primary meaning. But the saying can also be read as a warning that taking things easy can cause problems later on while hard work can pay off with greater ease and comfort down the road, and thus as an admonition to get things done quickly rather than putting them off or focusing on short-term pleasures.
We begin with the noun 楽 (raku), “pleasure,” “comfort,” “ease.” Any particles are elided, but it is clearly the subject of the copular verb あり (ari), in perfective form as あれ (are) and taking the conditional suffix ば (ba), “when.” This dependent clause is followed by an independent clause comprising the noun 苦 (ku), “pain,” “distress,” “hardship” acting as a particle-elided subject and taking as its predicate the verb あり in conclusive form.
This is followed by a reversal using the exact same pattern, but with the nouns switching places for which is the condition, and which the result.
This phrase may often be shortened to only its first half – this is the form it takes in the Edo iroha karuta set, for example. Be careful, though; apparently some people replace the first of the pair of ありs with する (suru), “to do,” which make the preceding noun into a verb, but this is considered an error.
This saying’s first meaning is considered synonymous with 禍福は糾える縄の如し, and its second, with 楽は苦の種苦は楽の種, which may actually have been derived from this one.
(“Okane no yoyuu ga aru teido dekitemo, raku areba ku ari to iu kara, yappari shibaraku wa shisso ken’yaku na seikatsu wo ganbatte tsudzukete okitai to omou.”)
[“Even with a bit of leeway financially, they do say that all good things must end, so I really think that I’d like to do my best to go on living frugally for a while.”]