Tactical yodeling

If you go to the A Book of Creatures website, you can find dozens or hundreds of monsters and crypids described in detail, and some of the details just make you itch to run a fantasy RPG specifically so you can put them in there. A while back, a very brief post presented “Another alpine dragon… What really sells it is the melodramatic look of dismay on the guy. That or he’s yodeling to it.” [emphasis mine]

And for some reason that one-off comedic aside is what fired up my imagination the most. I want a campaign with a fearsome monster – a tatzelwurm guarding a mountain pass, for example – that will leave you untouched if only you sing to it the whole time you’re within earshot. Imagine sticking that on the map, letting the PCs encounter it and get routed like Monty Python’s grail knights versus the beast of Caerbannog, and then have their minds blown when they realize that local farmers, who of course know the wurm’s secret, walk right by it every day without a care.

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A warning

Or a simple observation of facts on the ground?

(Muri ga tooreba douri hikkomu;
“When unreason pushes through, reason withdraws”)


In a society where irrational force carries the day, reasonable thinking breaks down – and justice does as well. If people learn that they can get their way by being unreasonable, then people stop doing what is right. By extension, when people don’t listen no matter how logically you speak, it’s safer to keep your head down. (Disclaimer: this safety may depend on being a wealthy aristocrat with enough resources to isolate oneself from society at large; your results may vary.)


We begin with the noun 無理 (muri), “unreason,” “force,” “excess,” etc. It’s marked as the subject by the particle が (ga), and the verb it performs is 通る (tooru), in conditional form. The result of this condition is the noun 道理 (douri), “reason,” “truth,” “what is right,” performing the verb 引っ込む (hikkomu), “to draw back.”


Some versions of this saying include が after 道理 instead of eliding it. Replacing the first が with に (ni), however, is an error; 無理に通る is “to pass through [somewhere] by force.”

This kotowaza apparently comes to us from the Book of Han (漢書), in the section on Liu Xiang (劉向). It’s included as the む entry in the Edo iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:


(Muri ga tooreba douri hikkomu de, machi no naka no untenshu wa minna sukoshi zutsu jibungatte ni nari, koutsuu jiko no kensuu ga fue tsutsu aru.”)

[“As reason withdraws when force prevails, so did the town’s drivers become increasingly self-centered, and the frequency of traffic accidents is on the rise.”]

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Do emus dream of venomous sheep?


Literally: same – bed – different – dream

Alternately: Even though two people share some external thing in common – where they live, where they work, their situation, etc. – they have different goals, priorities, or ways of seeing the world.

Notes: This phrase comes to us from the writings of 12th-century Confucian scholar Chen Liang.


I guess it’s also… the title of an obscure TRPG (Tactical Role-Playing Game)?

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So you *can* make a mountain out of a molehill?

(Ato wa no to nare yama to nare;
“After this, come field, come mountain.”)


Not caring about what comes next as long as the current problem or issue can be finished up or taken care of. By extension, not caring about what happens to anybody else as long as you can get what you want. “After me, the deluge.” The image is of taking care of a piece of land, but not caring what happens to it afterwards – even if it reverts to a wild field or somehow turns into a mountain!


We begin with the noun 後 (ato), “after,” marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa). Next we have a repeated verb phrase with different nouns. The verb is なる (naru), “to become.” In each case, the verb relates to the preceding noun through the particle と (to), which in this case marks the endpoint of a change. The first potential becoming is 野 (no), “field,” and the second is 山 (yama), “mountain.”

The grammar of the nares isn’t 100% clear, but I suspect that the verb is in perfective form, which allows it to take the (elided but implied) suffix ば (ba), “(even) if.”


This saying apparently comes to us from 冥土の飛脚 (Meido no hikyaku), The Courier for Hell, an early 18th-century joururi love-suicide play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. And yet its relevance to current events is almost too obvious.

This kotowaza is specifically noted as being antonymous to 立つ鳥跡を濁さず.

Example sentence:

後は野となれ山となれとばかりに税収入をわざと減らしてやがって、あいつ等マジで何考えてるんだろう」 「それより、ただ一切も考えていないと言って良いんじゃない?」

(Ato wa no to nare yama to nare to bakari ni zeishuunyuu wo waza to herashite yagatte, aitsura maji de nani kangaeteru ndarou.” “Sore yori, tada issai mo kangaeteinai to itte iin ja nai?”)

[“Those idiots are slashing tax revenues on purpose as if they don’t care what comes next. What on earth are they thinking?” “Isn’t it just that they’re not thinking at all?”]

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In-laws memorization


Literally: doubt – heart – dark – ghost

Alternately: Once you allow suspicion or fear into your heart, everything will start to seem menacing. Even though nothing is actually there, a doubting heart fills the darkness with monsters.

Notes: Normally I’d deal with 鬼 by leaving it as oni, but here my sources specify that the 鬼 character refers to the malevolent spirits of the dead – and the fact that we the living can work ourselves up into a state of terror over them even though they don’t really exist.

A more kotowazaesque version adds a particle and verb: 疑心暗鬼を生ず (gishin anki wo shouzu), i.e. the doubting heart “gives birth to” ghosts in the darkness.

This phrase comes to us from the Liezi (列子, in Japanese Resshi), which we’ve seen before.


Also the name of a weird trippy Vocaloid song.

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Udo you, man

(Udo no taiboku; “A large udo tree”)


Of a person, big but good for nothing. An udo plant can grow up to about two meters tall and as thick as some trees, but its flesh isn’t strong or hard like wood (and it’s only edible as a young shoot), so it’s considered useless out of proportion to its size – and this saying is used to apply that situation specifically to a person who is physically large but not actually strong or useful. Like an executive who stands 6’2” but still couldn’t think his way out of a paper bag.


This is another simple phrase comprising two noun phrases connected by the associative particle の (no). The first noun is 独活 (udo), an herbaceous flowering plant also known as “Japanese spikenard.” The second noun is 大木 (taiboku), “large tree.”


A longer version of the phrase specifies that that large udo tree ~柱にならぬ (hashira ni naranu), “doesn’t become a pillar” – i.e. no matter how thick the stem is, it’s too weak to be used as a structural support. Keep in mind, though, that this saying can only be applied to people, not other inanimate objects or potential building materials.

Example sentence:


(“Banjin Nanko wa shokuyoku morimori de, kinniku mo morimori ni mieru mono no senryoku wa nashi. Sonna udo no taiboku taru mono wo nakama ni ireru to, kekkyoku kiken wo okasu ni suginai to osorete orimasu.”)

[“Nanco the Barbarian has a burgeoning appetite and the appearance of burgeoning musculature, yet lacks in martial ability. I fear that for us to admit such an ineffectual behemoth into the fellowship would in the end be no more than to place ourselves at risk.”]

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In one ear and then who cares?

[Insert tofu joke here]


Literally: horse – ear – east – wind

Alternately: When a person utterly fails to heed what others have to say. Opinions, criticism, and so on just go in one ear and out the other.

Notes: This compound comes to us from the poetry of Tang dynasty poet Li Bai. The image appears to be a contrast between human enjoyment of a spring breeze (which for Li Bai blew from the east) while horses were unimpressed. It also seems likely that he was complaining about how people with no taste remained unmoved by his poetry!


Ayup. “BaJiTouFuu problem child going strong!” Source.

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