Laugh ten million laughs

And then stop?


Literally: smile – stop – thousand – ten thousand

Alternately: Extremely absurd, ridiculous, stupid; pitiful, unfortunate.

Notes: 笑止 refers to something funny – or stupid – or pitiable – or worrisome – or embarrassing, while 千万 is an intensifier that can be attached to a wide variety of other words (and appears in a number of yojijukugo) in order to create extreme versions.


More political commentary, aimed at the DPJ (民主党).

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Like how Chelm was created, but almost entirely different

(Kanninbukuro no o ga kireru; “The string on one’s bag of patience breaks”)


Someone reaches the end of their patience and explodes. Running out of one’s ability to hold back and put up with something, especially after suppressing anger for a long time. The image is of one’s endurance being a sack that must contain one’s anger, which spills out when the draw-string suddenly snaps.


We begin with the a compound noun comprising 堪忍 (kannin), “patience,” and 袋 (fukuro), “bag.” The particle の (no), here in its role as a possessive marker, connects the bag to its 緒 (o), “cord,” which in turn is marked by the particle が (ga) as the subject of a verb. And that verb is 切れる (kireru), “to break,” “to be cut,” in sentence-final form.


The final particle and verb may be replaced at times with を切らす (wo kirasu), “to run out of.”

Apparently this phrase comes to us from the 堀川百首題狂歌集 (Horikawa hyakushudai kyouka shuu), an Edo-era collection of satirical poetry.

Example sentence:


(“Tsui ni kanninbukuro no o ga kireta no ka, sensei wa suugaku no rekuchaa wo akiramete nijuppun hodo gakusei tachi wo shikatta.”)

[“Maybe his store of patience had run out; the teacher gave up on the math lecture and spent about twenty minutes telling the students off.”]

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Fat head, skinny tail


Literally: dragon – head – snake – tail

Alternately: A strong or exciting beginning and a weak or dull ending. In with a bang, out with a whimper. Anticlimax. Alternately, something that looks impressive but in reality is lacking.

Notes: The 竜 may alternately be pronounced ryou, or replaced with 虎 (here pronounced ko), “tiger.”

This compound can be traced back to The Transmission of the Lamp (景徳伝灯録), an 11th-century CE Chinese lineage of Zen Buddhists.

It can be considered something of an antonym to last weekend’s kotowaza.


Zang, sick JoJo burn!

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Sham shyness, ferocious fleeing?

In like a lamb, out like a lion

(Hajime wa shojo no gotoku nochi wa datto no gotoshi;
“The beginning is like a virgin, after is like a running hare”)


A battle strategy that begins with a show of caution and weakness to get the enemy off-guard, then suddenly follows with strikes of such speed and power as to seem like a completely different force or fighter. Beginning slowly and cautiously like a shy girl and ending with the speed of a fleeing rabbit. In more modern terms, pool sharking. By extension, this phrase may also be used to describe any performance that begins in a lackluster way but then suddenly shows its true strength.

Note that this phrase is not (correctly) used to describe a situation that begins amiably or quietly and later descends into hostility or violence.


We begin, appropriately, with the noun 始め (hajime), “beginning,” followed by the particle は (wa). This marks it as the “topic” of the first half of the phrase while setting up a contrast with the latter half. Next comes the noun 処女 (shojo), “virgin,” linked by the associative particle の (no) to the adjective 如し (gotoshi), in conjunctive form. This points us to the second half of the sentence.

This time, in place of a beginning, we begin with 後 (nochi), “after,” again marked with は to change the topic and finish the contrasting pair. In place of the virgin we get 脱兎 (datto), “an escaping rabbit,” connected by の to 如し in sentence-final form.


This strategy comes to us from none other than Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, (『孫子兵法』) in the chapter on “the Nine Situations” (九地).

Example sentence:


(“Gakkari shita na, konkai no karate no kumite no aite wa yosou ijou ni yowakatta. Zutto hajime wa shojo no gotoku nochi wa datto no gotoshi teki na sakusen wo tsukatteru no ka to kasuka ni kitai shiteta no ni, kekkyoku, yowai mama datta. Nanka, kinchou shiteta no ga muda ni natta kanji da na.”)

[“That was disappointing; my sparring partner in karate this time was weaker than I’d expected. I spent the whole time sort of hoping they were pretending to be weak in order to set me up, but in the end they were just not that good. It’s like, it feels like I got all keyed up for nothing.”]

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But in Bizarro World, everything is great!

If you live in a democracy, be in touch with your representatives. Even if you live in a country where things are going fine, be in touch and let them know you’re paying attention. It turns out that taking the smooth and proper functioning of government for granted is a dangerous error.


Literally: evil – reverse / wicked – no – way / teachings / morality

Alternately: Unfathomable evil. Heinous words or deeds. Violating basic human morality. Atrocity.

Notes: Apparently 悪逆 used to have a technical definition under the old Ritsuyou legal system: it was the murder of a family member, one of eight crimes for which no amnesty could be granted. 無道, logically enough, was to be lacking in human 道理 (douri), “reason” or “truth.”

This compound has a relatively large number of variants, including alternate pronunciations like ~bu.dou and ~mu.tou for 無道. The 無 may also be replaced by synonym 非 (hi).


Yes, I’m thinking of Charlottesville and of a certain official response. Instead of dirtying my site, here’s a guide to writing the character 逆.

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Hearing is dreaming, seeing is believing?

Speech is silver, experience is lead

(Kiite gokuraku mite jigoku; “Hearing is heaven, seeing is hell”)


When you only hear about something second-hand it may sound amazing, but experiencing it personally is another matter. Use this saying in cases where “other matter” means “much worse.” Hearsay and experience tell different tales. Expectations don’t always match reality. Don’t trust nostalgia, or the impressions you get about people’s lives from social media, ha ha ha.


We begin with the verb 聞く (kiku), “to hear” or “to listen,” in conjunctive form, followed by the noun 極楽 (gokuraku). Above I translated this word as “heaven,” but more specifically it refers to the Buddhist “Western Paradise,” or Sukhavati, a “celestial abode” inhabited by the Amida buddha.

Next we have the verb 見る (miru), “to see” or “to look,” again in conjunctive form. This is followed by the noun 地獄 (jigoku). Again, for the sake of pith I went with “hell” above, but more specifically the term refers to Naraka (Naraku in Japanese), a realm of suffering that souls with bad karma may be born into.


Careful observers will note that everything but a pair of verbs and a pair of nouns is absent, so the precise grammar at work is somewhat open to interpretation. Rather than being a contracted form of something longer or a translation from Chinese, the phrase seems to have sprung into existence in its current form in the 18th century CE, first attested in 1797 in an Edo-era dictionary named 諺苑 (Gen’en), literally “garden of kotowaza.”

Let me just reiterate that while “heaven” and “hell” are convenient Western analogues for the general concepts indicated by 極楽 and 地獄, it would be a mistake to think that these terms represent anything like Christian thought. Remember especially that the Buddhist 地獄 is probably closer in concept to purgatory than to hell, as a temporary residence resulting from the weight of karma.

This is the ki entry of the Edo iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:


(“Daitouryou to iu no wa susamajii kenryoku wo furuete, jinsei ga raku ni naru to omoete shimau ga, jitsu wa sono you na koto wa nai. Shigoto ga ooku, tsuraku, kurushiku, sabishikute, shikamo tsune ni koushuu no chuumoku ya hihan wo abisareru no de, kekkyoku no tokoro kiite gokuraku mite jigoku no omotai sekinin ni suginai no da to sugu satotte shimatta no de aru.”)

[“A president wields terrifying power, so you’d think that life would be easy, but it tuns out that that’s not the case. There’s a lot of work; it’s tough and trying and lonely; and what’s more you’re always in the glare of public attention and criticism, so in the end he realized that the reality doesn’t match the expectation – it’s nothing more than a heavy responsibility.”]

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What we need now is a more dangerous boat…?


Literally: WuYue – same – boat

Alternately: Enemies in the same place at the same time, especially facing a common danger, challenge, or foe. People who would normally fight, forced by circumstances to work together. Being in the same boat.

Notes: This is a famous compound dating from the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. If people from rival states Wu and Yue found themselves riding on the same boat, it goes, they would be constrained from fighting for fear of harming those around them, or damaging or capsizing the vessel itself. In fact, if a storm were to arise, they’d be forced to work together in order to survive. Similarly, if rivals within a foundering company or politicians from opposing factions within an endangered nation set aside their differences to work together, they’d be in a state of 呉越同舟. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Only by working together can we accumulate enough naps!

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