Too hot for a cold reading

“Philosophers / must ultimately find / their true perfection // in knowing all / the follies of mankind / -by introspection.” – Piet Hein, Grooks, “The Ultimate Wisdom.”

(On’youji mi no ue shirazu;
“The diviner knows not their own fate”)


Everybody is their own worst blind spot: it’s easy to notice quirks and tendencies in the people around you while remaining ignorant of your own. Fortune-tellers can’t tell their own fortunes.


This time we’re going to start close to the end with the noun 身 (mi) and the noun 上 (ue), joined by the associative particle の (no). While in literal terms 身 is “body” and 上 is “above,” the phrase 身の上 in this case refers to someone’s fate. This core noun phrase is preceded, without particles, by the noun 陰陽師 (here on’youji, but see below), a diviner/magician/exorcist (etc.) in the 陰陽五行説. And it is followed, also without particles (but we may imagine an object-marker), by the verb 知る (shiru) “to (come to) know [something],” in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form.


This is the お (o) entry of the Osaka iroha karuta set. However, most of my sources replace the yin-yang practitioner 陰陽師 with the more generic 易者 (ekisha), “fortune-teller.”

The word 陰陽師 is probably most commonly pronounced onmyouji, but it can also be read as in’youshi, omyouji, on’nyoushi, or on’youji. The final one is considered correct for this saying.

Example sentence:


(On’youji mi no ue shirazu to iu you ni, itsumo ano hito no chuugen ni wa sukuwareteiru nda kedo, honnin mo jibun no itta koto wo jissen subeki da to omocchau toki mo aru nda yo ne.”)

[“Just as the diviner can’t see their own destiny, their advice always helps me out, but there are times when I can’t help but think that they need to be putting their own words into actual practice.”]

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: Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s