Only a failure to see

–Malcolm Muggeridge

(Yamiyo ni teppou;
“A gun on a dark night”)


Doing things at random without any clear plans or information. Taking shots in the dark without even a target, much less the ability to see and aim at one. Arbitrary, generally ineffectual activity. By extension, this phrase can also refer to a lucky hit; a fluke success where none could reasonably have been expected.


We begin with the noun 闇夜 (yamiyo), “dark night,” especially a moonless night, marked by the particle に (ni) as the location (or rather, the time) of an action. The verb itself is elided, but the action itself is suggested by the following noun, 鉄砲 (teppou), “gun.”


This is the や (ya) entry of the Kyoto iroha karuta set. Variants include the contracted に鉄砲 (yami ni teppou) – which is the ya entry in the Osaka set – and 闇夜鉄砲 (yamiyo no teppou), which makes the saying into a noun phrase rather than an implied sentence. Other variants replace the gun with 礫 (tsubute), a [thrown] rock, along with several different ways to express “darkness.” Replacing 闇夜 with 暗がり (kuragari), “darkness,” is considered an error.

Some uses follow this phrase with the elided verb, ~を撃つ (wo utsu), “to shoot [a gun].”

Compare and contrast the more-forgiving 下手な鉄砲も数撃てば当たる.

Example sentence:


(“Ichiou, hitobanjuu yamiyo ni teppou wo utsu you na puroguramingu wo shita kara sofuto wa ugoiteiru keredo, kongo no debaggu wa hitsuyou fukaketsu da.”)

[“For what it’s worth, I spent the night coding without really knowing what I was doing and now the software runs, but it’s definitely going to need debugging later on.”]

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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