Japanese Frog Proverb

My friend and I got to one of our classes early. While we waited I asked her if she knew any folklore. She happily gave me a legend about the Mid-Autumn Festival. She also gave me two proverbs. Here is the second:

“井の中の蛙大海を知らず (I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu)  translates to “A frog in the well doesn’t know the great sea.”

I asked her what the proverb meant, here is what she said:

“I don’t like this one as much as the monkey proverb. I’ve also heard this one less from my dad because I feel like this is a more specific proverb. Like it can only be used in so many different ways. My dad can literally work the Moneky proverb into basically anything. But this proverb is a little harder. I call this one the Frog Proverb, for obvious reasons. Basically, it means you shouldn’t judge because we each have our own narrow experience of the world. The well is the way we see and perceive the world. As much as we like to think we know the great sea because all of our experiences are limited we can’t ever fully perceive and understand the world like others do. Like I said, I’ve only heard it a few times though.”

Collector Analysis:

Firstly, I found it funny that both the proverbs my friend provided for me had to deal with animals. I’m sure Japanese culture is flooded with proverbs, but I find it beyond coincidental that the two Japanese proverbs I collected were animal based. This probably speaks to the emphasis traditional Japanese culture places on nature. Secondly, this proverb has a completely different feel from the monkey proverb. I feel like the monkey proverb is playful, but this proverb sounds more along the lines of sacred knowledge. To me, the frog proverb is depressing. I interpret the frog proverb in the sense that the frog believes he is in the great sea as he only knows the well. He knows no different and he doesn’t know that beyond the horizon lies a vast ocean. So I feel like the frog proverb basically points out everyone’s ignorance by telling us that our idea of the world isn’t close to the actual world at all.