Please be true please be true please be true

(Ten shiru chi shiru ware shiru hito shiru;
“Heaven knows; earth knows; oneself knows; people know”)


Secrets and crimes will eventually come to light. Even if you think something is completely hidden, the gods of the heavens and the earth know about it. You know about it, naturally. And anybody else complicit in your misdeed knows about it as well. That’s a lot of room for leaks getting out. So you’d better do things properly and ethically, no matter how well you believe you can hide your crimes.

A little bit of the feel is perhaps captured by the English phrase “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”


The quadruple-repeated verb phrase at work here is 〇知る, where the 〇 is a noun and 知る (shiru) is the verb “to know.” The four nouns are respectively 天 (ten), “heaven,” 地 (chi), “earth,” i.e. this mortal realm, 我 (ware), “I,” “self,” and 人 (hito), “person,” i.e. people other than oneself, or in this case specifically a second person being addressed.


This phenomenon is also known as the 四知 (shichi), the “four knowings.” Somewhat ironically, a couple of variants exist that add more possible knowings. Other nouns that can be used in place of 人 include 汝 (an archaic character meaning “you,” with several possible pronunciations), and 子 (usually meaning “child” but here also meaning “you,” and pronounced shi). Similarly, 地 can be replaced with 神 (shin), “god(s).” Finally, the whole can be represented in brief by just the first two, “天知る地知る.”

This saying apparently comes from an anecdote in the Book of the Later Han, a history describing several centuries of imperial reigns and biographies of important figures for about the first two centuries CE. A public official tries to bribe the scholar Yang Zhen (楊震), saying “It’s night and we can’t be seen, so nobody will know.” Yang refuses the bribe, replying “Heaven knows, the earth knows, I know, and you know. Don’t say nobody knows.” (Presumably, he follows this up by slipping on a pair of shades and striding off without a backward glance as his would-be buyer explodes in flames.)

Example sentence:


(“Naisho dakara daijoubu tte iwarete mo iya da yo. Ten shiru chi shiru darou.”)

[“I don’t like it even if you say we’ll be fine because it’s a secret. The heavens and the earth know too, you know.”]

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Tidal waves just sneaking right up on ya there

(Tensai wa wasureta koro ni yatte kuru;
“Disaster comes when it has been forgotten”)


Don’t let your guard down, because disasters always seem to strike exactly when you’re doing just that. The last catastrophe has faded from memory, attention is focused on new problems, and old safeguards are being relaxed – and then when you’ve gone and made yourself vulnerable, the old disaster strikes again. You forget the last major earthquake or tsunami, and the next one strikes. You take drinkable water and breathable air for granted and dismantle the EPA, and suddenly your tap runs with heavy metals again. The generation that stopped fascism dies out, and their children put a new fascist in power. So even – especially! – when it seems like certain problems of the past have been overcome and put to rest, it’s imperative to continue guarding against them.

See also the four-character compound 油断大敵 and last Sunday’s kotowaza. The price of safety, as they say, is eternal vigilance.


We begin with the noun 天災 (tensai), “(natural) disaster,” marked by the particle は (wa) as the topic of discussion. The next noun is 頃 (koro), “approximate time,” marked by the particle に (ni) as the time when something happens. What happens? やってくる (yatte kuru), “it comes,” with the “it” in question being our disaster. And at what approximate time does it come along? When 忘れる (wasureru), “to forget,” in past tense. Note that by adding yaru (in its conjunctive form yatte) to kuru, the latter verb changes from a simple arrival to one that has been approaching for some time.


Some versions of this saying replace 災 (sai), “disaster,” with 害 (gai), “harm.”

This saying is attributed to physicist (and earthquake researcher), author, and essayist Torahiko Terada.

Example sentence:

「筋トレで怪我をして、一か月まるまる休んだけど、またやり始めたその次の日に全く同じ筋肉をまた怪我したんだ。マジだ不幸だ!」 「不幸じゃなくて油断だったんじゃない?天災は忘れた頃にやってくるっていうからね」

(“Kintore de kega wo shite, ikkagetsu marumaru yasunda kedo, mata yarihajimeta sono tsugi no hi ni mattaku onaji kinniku wo mata kega shitanda. Maji de fukou da!” “Fukou ja nakute yudan dattan ja nai? Tensai wa wasureta koro ni yatte kuru tte iu kara ne.”)

[“I injured myself doing weight training, but even though I rested a whole month, after I started again the very next day I hurt the exact same muscle! Can you believe the bad luck?” “Is it bad luck, or were you not careful? They do say that the next disaster strikes when you’ve forgotten the last one.”]

(Here we are on the very last day of the week, but as promised, here’s a make-up saying! Expect your regularly-scheduled Sunday kotowaza tomorrow!)

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Giving oneself a (winning) hand


Literally: acquire – hand – win – hand

Alternately: Doing whatever you want without regard for other people. Caring only about one’s own needs, desires, or convenience. Selfish or willful behavior.

Notes: While toku is a valid reading of 得 in some contexts, it can only be pronounced e here. This yojijukugo joins a long list of terms, like 我田引水 and 独断専行, that criticize disruptive or excessive self-interest.


Like, did you ever think about what they want?

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Magic Monday – The Sorcerer’s Valet


While many magicians preserve traditions of living within a community and working with their hands, others – especially the wealthy and antisocial – isolate themselves and try to meet their daily needs with magic as often as possible. The Servant-Spell is a common tool for these: it imbues an inert object with a spirit appropriate to a desired task, which animates the object for the following twenty-four hours. In general, the task is simple and appropriate to the object animated: a broom that sweeps on its own; a chest or table that carries things around; a stylus or quill-pen that takes dictation. As a rule, the servant can be commanded to start or stop its task, to follow its master or go to a visible location, or just wait. A group of servants may also be created at once, and can act in concert; servants created separately are unfortunately not especially aware of each other nor prone to cooperation.

The base difficulty of the servant-spell is d8; if the object is ill-suited to its task (e.g. a broom asked to carry), the difficulty rises by at least one step. If the object is already enchanted and bonded to the caster, or is set to work entirely within the caster’s place of power (in which cases the object being lost or leaving the area will render it inert), the difficulty decreases by a step. The base cost is four strain or fatigue, plus two more for each additional object imbued. The caster may also sacrifice a point of Constitution per object to make a servant-spell permanent. A rare version of the spell imbues an intelligence equivalent to a young child and forces a single object into an appropriate shape for a task when possible, such as by adding arms and legs to it. This version increases the difficulty by two steps and doubles all energy costs.

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Gird your loins, or your chin

(Katte kabuto no o wo shimeyo;
“When you win, tighten your helmet-strap”)


A warning to not let down one’s guard even when things seem to be going well or when one seems to have won a fight. Always push all the way through to the finish line. “It’s not over ‘til it’s over” – and don’t be too sure that something’s actually over. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.


We begin with the verb 勝つ (katsu), “to win,” in conjunctive form. This allows it to connect to the following clause. This begins with a noun phrase comprising 兜 (kabuto), “helmet” and 緒 (o), “cord,” connected by the associative particle の (no). The particle を (wo) marks this noun phrase as the object of the verb 締める (shimeru) in imperative form, making the entire phrase into a command.


This saying apparently comes to us from third-century BCE Confucian philosopher Xun Kuang.

Example sentence:


(“Ano akuhou ga fuseikou ni owatte shimatta kara mochiron ureshii kedo, katte mo kabuto no o wo shimeyou. Yudan shitara kondo no kekka wa dou naru ka wakaranai kara.”)

[“Naturally I’m happy that that evil law failed, but even in victory let’s fix our helmets. There’s no knowing how it will go next time if we let our guard down.”]

(Note: It has come to my attention that last week’s kotowaza did not go up on the site. To make up for the omission, please expect two kotowaza posts this week, arranged to avoid overlap. In the meantime, enjoy a topical example of usage!)

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Maybe later; not yet and not now


Literally: old – now – nothing – pair

Alternately: Something is unmatched from the past to the present. A quality (often, but not always, greatness) is unequaled at any time in history, right up to the present moment.

Notes: 古今 does not simply mean “past and present,” as one might guess from the characters’ meanings; it refers to the entire span of time. There are a number of four-character compounds beginning with 古今, including several synonyms to this one. (For example 古今無比 (~.hi), in which the character 比, which replaces 双, means “compare.”)


This yojijukugo appears in a war song from the very early Meiji Era, at the time of the Satsuma Rebellion. Something like it is being sung by this anime girl, because that’s new.

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Magic Monday – God-eaters – The Stars

The Stars
(The Dancers of the Astral Plain; the Lights)

Description: It turns out that the world really is ringed in a shell, nest, or shield of rotating crystalline spheres. The innermost face of these – which we call the “sky” – is a vast landscape of shimmering gray, also known (despite the presence of woods, hills, ravines, and several features analogous to nothing terrestrial) as the Astral Plain. Here wander the stars: shining beings in humanoid, beastlike, or entirely alien shapes. By day they usually grow dimmer and go about recognizable business such as sports (and other hobbies), resting, socializing, even fighting, although they also tend to move along a fixed track through the landscape of the sky. By night they dance and shine, bright enough to be seen from our world below.

Each star has a fixed shape and a largely fixed color, although its light varies in intensity over the course of the day and in accordance with its moods.

Worshipers: Yes, notably the Asteri Magi. While any one star’s influence on the mortal world below is relatively slight, priests have found ways to call on groups of stars in return for certain boons. Still, the earth and sky are separated by a vast and seldom-traveled gulf, so anything that happens to a given star would only be noticed after the fact, when certain invocation rituals began to fail consistently.

Servitors: No. Each star is relatively solitary in its strange geometrical habits, although some have warm relations with each other or with other, non-star inhabitants of their land.

Confrontation: At night, the stars dance uncontrollably and seem oblivious to their surroundings, but are immune to all non-magical harm. In the day, they tend to take offense to hostile actions, and fight to defend themselves as a non-astral being of the same shape would. Stars tend to be scattered across the landscape of the sky and seldom come to each other’s aid, except for the more social groups, such as the members of some constellations.

Aspect: Energy; cosmos; other aspects vary from star to star. Those present at defeat may boost any one attribute, save, or survival meter by +1, or gain one skill point.

Powers – Tier 1: The character gains a faint glow. This is too dim to be useful in the dark (although it does complicate attempts at stealth), but the glow spreads to encompass any magic items or magical beings the character is directly touching.

Powers – Tier 2: The character may adjust the strength and hue of their light with a thought. Although it can never be extinguished entirely, it may be dimmed until it is only noticeable in pitch darkness, or brightened to the intensity of full daylight. The character’s sensitivity to magic increases as well, giving a +4 bonus to all Sense (Sixth) checks.

Powers – Tier 3: A character who has lost more than half their Humanity may voluntarily enter the star-dance while under (or on) the open sky at night. As with all stars, this leaves them in a near-helpless trance until morning, but invulnerable to non-magical harm.

Powers – Other: Each star has their proper track in the sky, and finds following this track restful and pleasant. Characters who have absorbed star-power technically have a track of their own, are always intuitively aware of where they should be in the sky, and are relieved of strain, harm, and fatigue at the rate of one point per hour regardless of activity while following their assigned orbits. If such a character dies, a portion of their essence rises to the Astral Plain and takes its place as a new star.

Example Checks: As long as a character who has absorbed any of the Lights’ essence is in the Astral Plain, every night they must check or join the star-dance until morning. The initial difficulty of the Humanity check to resist dancing is d4, but this permanently increases by one step for each star slain after the first, and for each dance danced while in the Plain. If the difficulty ever increases beyond d100, then the character irrevocably becomes an ordinary star and is retired as a PC. Star-dances performed on the terrestrial sphere don’t count in this calculation.

Notes: Some stars are notably more puissant than their fellows, with a unique ability or effect. (Examples: can control the motion of fire telekinetically; immune to magic; everyone in the star’s presence must speak the truth; anyone directly touching the star loses the ability to sense it in any way thereafter except when in direct contact.) These exceptional Lights grant an extra +1 bonus to any one value of the DM’s choice for characters present at defeat.

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