An osmotic balance of worries?


Literally: inside – grieve – outside – affliction

Alternately: Troubles both within and from without (a country). Internal and external problems. For example, alienating both your populace and your neighbors. By extension, can refer to the combination of intra- and inter-entity problems for households, corporations, and so on.

Notes: Some versions replace 憂 with 患 and the second 患 with 禍 (ka, “misfortune”).

This compound comes to us from the Commentary of Zuo (『春秋左氏伝』, in Japanese Shunjuu sashiden), which we’ve seen before.


Japanese Prime Minister Abe, pummeled with internal scandals while being excluded from talks between the Koreas, China, and the USA.

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When in doubt, carry a jackhammer

(Ishibashi wo tataite wataru; “Striking a stone bridge and crossing”)


Doubling and redoubling one’s precautions. Being extremely careful, especially in terms of safety. Like someone who comes to a sturdy stone bridge and still takes the time to test it by hitting it with a stick before crossing. This saying may be used positively, to encourage thorough vigilance, or negatively, to sarcastically criticize cowardice or unnecessary degrees of caution.


We begin with compound noun 石橋 (ishibashi), “stone bridge.” The bridge is marked by the particle を (wo) as being the direct object of the verb 叩く (tataku), “to strike” – and also of the following verb 渡る (wataru), “to cross (over).” The first verb is in conjunctive form, so it can link to the second; the second is in sentence-final form, so it can end the sentence.


Trivia of the day: Ishibashi is also the family name of the person who founded Bridgestone Tires.

This saying has a number of variations and spin-offs. 石橋 may be expanded from a compound noun to noun phrase 石の橋 (ishi no hashi), “a bridge of stone.” The final verb may appear in imperative form as 渡れ (watare). The need for caution may be emphasized by replacing を with も (mo) or でも (demo), “even.” Taking all possible precautions but not actually following through with action may be expressed by changing the noun structures to 叩いても渡らない (tataitemo wataranai), “doesn’t cross even after striking.” And taking so many precautions that the endeavor ends in failure as a result may be expressed by replacing the final verb with 壊す (kowasu), “to break.”

Example sentence:


(“Fudan wa tekitou ni shokuji wo tsukutte hotondo muishiki ni hitori de tabete kita Akira ga, hajimete jibun no ie ni maneita kanojo no tame ni ishibashi wo tataite wataru you ni, reshipi wo nando mo yonde renshuu wo kasaneteita.”)

[“Akira normally threw together his meals and ate alone, barely paying attention. But now, having invited his girlfriend over for the first time, he was taking every precaution imaginable, reading and practicing the recipe any number of times.”]

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Please do not bend, fold, spindle or mutilate


Literally: bend – study – flatter – society

Alternately: Twisting knowledge or reason in order to fit in with a trend or pander to some powerful element of society. Perverting truth in favor of social or political expediency.

Notes: This all-too-timely phrase comes to us from our friend, the Records of the Grand Historian, in the chapter on 儒林 (Rulin, in Japanese pronounced Jurin).

It’s possible, although less common, to reverse the order of the halves and say 阿世曲学.

Today’s media example isn’t Japanese, but it does have global consequences:

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Ah, ha, ha, ha, activity seeds, activity seeds

Whether you’re a mother or whether you’re a brother, activity seeds, activity seeds.

(Inochi atte no monodane; “Stuff you can do thanks to being alive”)


Anything is possible if – and only if – you are actually alive to do it. This saying warns against courses of action that put your life at risk even if overall they seem beneficial and likely to succeed. No potential reward or profit is worth risking your life in trade. When in doubt, err on the side of survival.


This kotowaza is a noun phrase. It centers on the noun 物種 (monodane), literally “thing-seed” but in usage better translated as “origin” or “foundation.” The associative particle の (no) connects this noun to the verb phrase that modifies it. Said verb phrase begins with the noun 命 (inochi), “life,” followed by the verb ある (aru), “to be,” “to exist.” The grammar is a little unusual: the て conjugation normally marks the conjunctive form of a verb, but here its function seems to be to nominalize the verb phrase so that it can be linked to the following noun with the の.


This phrase may be contracted to 命が物種 (inochi ga monodane) or 命こそ物種 (inochi koso monodane), or extended in a playful way by adding 畑あっての芋種 (hatake atte no imodane), “potato seeds thanks to having a field.”

Despite the sound, the final dane is definitely “seed” and should never be read or used as a combination of the copula だ plus tag particle ね.

Contrast the caution of this saying with ones that urge bold action, such as 虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず.

This kotowaza comes to us from the works of 19th-century Kabuki playwright Kawatake Mokuami.

Example sentence:


(Inochi atte no monodane na no de, inochi ni kakawaru shigoto wa okotowari shimasu.”)

[“Since life is necessary for all other things, I respectfully decline a life-threatening job.”]

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How many grets before they start repeating?


Literally: thousand – regret / resentment – ten thousand – regret / repentance

Alternately: Overwhelming feelings of regret about the past.

Notes: Some versions may not use 万, but rather the archaic form of the same character, 萬.

Both 千 and 万, instead of being taken literally, are used here to refer to large numbers or magnitudes; 千万 is a pretty common way of expressing something’s extreme nature. This plus the doubled synonymous kanji makes this into an emphasis-through-repetition type yojijukugo.


I tried to read this series, then I regretted it deeply. (卍解 is read “bankai” here.)

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Harding ain’t that easy

(Sou wa tonya ga orosanai; “Wholesalers don’t give that kind of discount”)


Things won’t go the way you want. Things aren’t going to be as easy as you expect. A line that you give people when they expect more than is realistic. The image is of someone going to the wholesaler with inflated expectations of what kind of a discount they can get.


We begin with the adverb そう (sou), “in that way,” marked as the topic of discussion and set up with an implied contrast (to a different way) by the particle は (wa). The comment that follows begins with the noun 問屋 (tonya). The term is commonly translated as “wholesaler,” although historically it can also refer to private shippers of goods, warehouse managers, and to the warehouses themselves. 問屋 is marked by the particle が (ga) as the subject of a verb. And the verb in question is 卸す (orosu), which originally meant “to grate” but by extension came to refer to selling things at (discounted) wholesale prices.


Some versions may use the older negative ending 卸さ (orosanu).

Incidentally, 問屋 can also be pronounced toiya. In fact, you’d expect toiya to be correct, given that the root of this “spelling” is in the verb 問う (tou). It appears that tonya is the Edo-dialect pronunciation… but somehow it became standardized, and is the correct reading for this saying.

Example sentence:


(“Zenninsha no koto wo kojinteki ni kirai dakara, keiyaku kaijo shiyou to shiteiru no kai? Sou wa tonya ga orosan zo.”)

[“So, what, just because you personally hate your predecessor, you’re trying to get out of the contract? It’s not that simple.”]

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Like, the opposite of Solla Sollew


Literally: many – thing – many – difficult

Alternately: A pile-up of events, especially problematic ones, and especially ones that are difficult to resolve. Unending troubles. More euphemistically, having a lot going on in one’s life.


From a Japanese article – bear with me – about China’s Xinhua news agency having deemed 2017 to have been a year of 多事多難

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