Geckos famously sell insurance

Gekkos famously commit fraud

(Geko no tateta kura wa nai;
“There are no storehouses built by non-drinkers”)


One might expect teetotallers to become richer due to not wasting money on drink, and once rich they might spend that extra cash on building some storage and filling it with supplies or goods… yet one doesn’t hear about that sort of thing having actually happened. A now-obscure phrase that was supposedly once used by people who drink alcohol to needle those who don’t or can’t, or perhaps especially as an excuse to assuage their own hurt feelings in response to criticisms of their drinking.


We begin with the noun 下戸 (geko), literally “below the door” but in this case meaning a non-drinker (of alcohol). Next comes the particle の (no) in the subject-marker role filled by が (ga) in more modern usage. The predicate to this subject is the verb 建てる (tateru), “to build [a building],” in past tense and acting as a modifier to the noun 蔵 (kura), a “storehouse,” especially one in a particular style of construction with a rectangular foundation and high walls of wattle-and-daub supported by a wooden frame. This entire noun phrase is marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa), and the comment on this topic is simply the adjective 無い (nai), “not,” in conclusive form.


This phrase comes to us from a 1623 collection of humorous anecdotes called 『醒睡笑』 (Seisuishou, literally “wake sleep laugh,” as in “humor that wakes you up”), and is preserved as the け (ke) entry of the Osaka iroha karuta set. The Seisuishou was written by a priest known as 安楽庵策伝 (Anrakuan Sakuden), who is less famous for alcoholism than for tea ceremony and for being a founder of rakugo storytelling.

A variant phrase declares that 酒蔵はあれども餅蔵なし (sakagura wa aredomo mochigura nashi), “there are storehouses for alcohol but not for mochi,” i.e. people who drink are willing and able to build storage spaces for their drink, but teetotalers can’t or don’t do the same for snacks. On the other hand, a non-drinker might respond to this week’s phrase with 上戸の潰した蔵はある (jougo no tsubushita kura wa aru), “there are storehouses that have been wrecked by drinkers.” This seems to refer to people who drink away all their savings, rather than to literal property damage.

Example sentence:


(Roujin wa hoka no joukyaku no tsumetai shisen wo kanjiteinai furi wo shita. Demo, sakekusai kuchi de ‘geko no taketa kura wa nai darou ga’ to butsubutsu iinagara suwatta.)

[The old man acted like he didn’t sense the glares of the other passengers. But he did sit down, muttering under his alcohol-reeking breath that “Staying sober never made anybody rich.”]

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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