Category Archives: Japanese

Someone who can see through the shell game

亀の甲より年の劫 (Kame no kou yori toshi no kou; “Better the wisdom of years than a tortoise-shell”) Definition: Pun time! Japanese is actually full of puns, and here’s one that made it into a kotowaza. The phrase itself means that one … Continue reading

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Knockout poor

器用貧乏 ki.you.bin.bou Literally: vessel – use – poverty – scarcity Alternately: Someone gifted with relatively good across-the-board skills… who, because of this, fails to develop any one skill to its full extend and ends up doing things only halfway. A … Continue reading

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Soryaa, ii kamo?

鴨が葱を背負って来る (Kamo ga negi wo shotte kuru; “A duck comes bearing a green onion on its back”) Definition: A confluence of almost-too-good-to-be-true convenience. Often used when somebody you’d been planning to use or con comes to you with a get-rich-quick … Continue reading

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War and Weft

合従連衡 ga-.sshou.ren.kou Literally: join – vertical – lead – horizontal Alternately: This compound commonly refers to diplomacy based on calculations of profit and loss; of making and breaking alliances based on the convenience of the moment. Originally, it referred to … Continue reading

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Der Dreigroschenvorteil

早起きは三文の徳 (Hayaoki wa sanmon no toku; “Rising early is a three-penny profit”) Definition: Waking up early in the morning instead of sleeping in leads to better health and a variety of other benefits. “Early to bed and early to rise … Continue reading

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The good coyote?

(Or this one.) 権謀術数 ken.bou.ju-.ssuu Literally: authority – scheme – technique – number Alternately: A plan or strategy to fool people. Wiles; trickery; Machiavellianism. Notes: Apparently this compound comes to us from Zhu Xi’s (朱熹) The Great Learning (大学).

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Lucy in the pie

…with a 3D rendering of diamonds 絵に描いた餅 (E ni kaita mochi; “A rice cake drawn in a picture”) Definition: Something appealing that doesn’t actually do any good. Pie in the sky, to substitute a Western food. No matter how well-drawn … Continue reading

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