Tag Archives: Japanese proverbs

“A child is a parent’s mirror” – Japanese Proverb

1. Text

Main piece: The informant shared a Japanese proverb that goes: “A child is a parent’s mirror”.

2. Context

Relationship to the piece:

Informant: “This one I heard it from my mom”



“I think it’s both [good and bad]”

“like if a child is nasty, then the parent is nasty”

“but if the child is well mannered usually the parent is too”

3. Analysis

This Japanese proverb is similar to proverbs in other cultures like the Korean proverb “If you plant beans you get beans” and the North American proverb “an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. This common comparison between parent and children across various cultures shows that people often judge parents by their children and vice versa. It also suggests that a child’s upbringing is very influential to their character. It seems to suggest that the parent-child bond is very strong and is difficult to break from. However, these proverbs come from traditional and conservative views of how families are structured and do not serve to explain all families. Therefore, the idea that children reflect their parents is not absolute but a cautionary message to parents raising children and children growing under the shadow of their parents to be better versions of themselves or break away from the mistakes or flaws of their parents.

“Trip seven times, get up eight times” – Japanese Proverb

1. Text

Main piece: Informant shared a Japanese proverb “七転び八起き”.

Original script: 七転び八起き

Phonetic: Nana korobi hachi oki

Transliteration: Seven falls eight get ups

Translation: Trip seven times, get up eight times.

Definition: Persevering, not giving up till succeeding; the ups and downs of life

2. Context

Relationship to the piece:


“I read it in a book”



“I never really understood what it was”

“I think it’s perseverance though”

3. Analysis

This Japanese proverb seems to say that life is falling seven times and getting up eight times. Even though you keep falling, if you keep getting up, you will end up on your feet. It also suggests that life is full of ups and downs, and is not easy. One must keep failing then trying again to stay afloat. It does have a positive connotation as the number of falls is less than the number of getting up. This outlook of accepting the struggle yet remaining hopeful is one way that Japanese people live their life. Although the meaning seems similar, this proverb is very different from its likes in the western culture like “failure is the father of success”, where failure is suggested to lead to success. Instead, the Japanese proverb tells the people that life is hard, and one must accept that and persevere, where getting up doesn’t mean success but does mean that one can keep on continuing forward. This shows how the Japanese proverb is more realistic and practical, while the North American proverb is more idealistic. This could be traced further back to the power dynamic differences between Japan and the US since the US is a superpower whereas Japan was defeated during WWII and has been forced to remove its military, renounce their emperor, and even be under control of the US for a period of time. As a superpower, the US has the confidence to use more idealistic proverbs while Japan after WWII has a much more stagnant and cynical outlook which leads to more realistic and pragmatic proverbs.


Main piece:

Original text: 夏が終わった

Translated text: The summer ends.

The informant told me that in Japanese, words sometimes have more meanings than they seem to have. For example, “summer” is not only a season. It represented the best time of love. “Summer” is when you are fervently love someone but haven’t decided to tell him/her. It’s like the beautiful relationship between highschoolers: they are in love, but too young to say it out bravely. When “the summer ends”, it means someone decided to give up on a relationship, or a fruitless love.

More generally, 夏が終わった also means the best period of one’s time has ends. It’s like the end of teenage.

Background information:

The informant is a student from China studying abroad in Japan. She saw the hashtag 夏が終わった on twitter. People do not only post about season under it, but also use it to descrive something more emotional. She shared this with me through social media chat box.


I collected this piece through a casual interview with my informant in social media chat box.


It’s a really beautiful to say something inside someone ends. I like how Eastern Asian culture tends to have more connotation in their language.


Main Piece: 月が綺麗ですね /The moon is very pretty (tonight).

The informant told me that it is too direct for Japanese people to say “I love you”. Japanese as a language is very obscure. In daily conversation, people are being extremely polite to each other. Therefore. directly saying “I love you” seems to be rude and abrupt. Instead of saying that out, they would say “the moon is very pretty tonight”. This is because there is a story about a Japanese famour writer, Soseki Natsume, translated “I love you” into 月が綺麗ですね. When people thinking about 月が綺麗ですね , they would think of “I love you”. It’s a connonative way of expressing love to someone.

Background information:

The informant is a student from China studying abroad in Japan. She heard this term and the story of Soseki Natsume before she went to Japan. In this coversation, she told me that the story might not be true. Because the story gets popular after Natsume’s death, no one know if he really translated “I love you” into something with the moon.


I collected this piece through a casual interview with my informant in social media chat box.


This piece is well-known because of anime. Lots of Japanses anime and manga adapted this term into their story. I knew it from somewhere else before this interview as well. But still, it is a very romantic way to tell someone your love.

The Story Behind Japanese Saying: 情けは人の為ならず (One Good Turn Deserves Another)

Main Piece:

“There is a common saying in Japan, in Japanese it’s: 情けは人の為ならず.

Original script: 情けは人の為ならず

Phonetic (Roman) script: Nasake wa hito no tame narazu

Transliteration: the good you do for others is good you do yourself.

Full translation: One good turn deserves another. 

It means when you do things for someone, it’s not for them, it’s for yourself. So, I mean it connects to the story about like, ummm like an old man walking to a winter mountain, then he finds like three stone, umm what do you call those? Like statues of Japanese monk. It’s like a tiny mini one, really cute. And he’s like: “Oh no, it’s snowing.” It’s statue right? Obviously it has no feelings or anything. But then the old man was like:”Oh my gosh. It’s snowing and it’s probably really cold.” So he makes these like three ummm straw hats for those three stone statues and then place it upon them. Then he will like, you know, get along his life. When he goes home, and the next morning, he wakes up and he opens the front door, and then he finds like this chunk of rice. At that time, obviously rice equals money. So what happen was those stone statue, like the monks kind of came to life and came to life to thank him, saying like thanks for the straw hats. Oh I think he makes like straw coats as well. You know, just like something to put on the statue. And like these rice is just to show gratitude and everything. So yea, this is where this saying comes from. So 情けは人の為ならず is just do something for someone, like yea you are helping them but ultimately you are helping yourself. Like it’s always gonna come back to you. That’s like the saying.”


My informant was born in Osaka, Japan. Both of her parents are very Japanese. So although she immediately moved to Hong Kong after she was born, she learned Japanese and Japanese culture from her parents. She knew this saying and the story behind it because her dad told her when she was at a kid. She feels a lot of the time when people do things for someone or even just make friends with someone, they think about benefit or cost they get. But in her mind, because of this saying and the way her dad teaches her, she deems that in order to live a happy life, people need to do things for each other. So my informant is always happy to give out her help and be kind to people even when they are mean sometimes. Growing up embedded with this mindset, my informant feels this saying shapes her action and life attitude.


She is a good friend of mine since we both lived in Osaka for a while. This piece was collected as we had lunch at the USC village. I invited her to talk about her culture and we were sharing thoughts while waiting for the food. The conversation was conducted under a relaxing environment and we both feel pretty comfortable sharing our childhood experience.


Personally, I really like this folk piece because it’s not like other sayings that only have one sentence, this saying has a story behind it, which reflects a lot of Japanese culture. For example, it talks about Japanese monks which are associated with Shinto and Buddhism religions which are the two major religions in Japan. Also, the straw hat and straw coat that are mentioned in the story are also representations of Japanese tradition. Straw hat is often worn by Japanese monks. I remember when I was a kid, I used to watch Ikkyū-san, which is a Japanese anime about the life of a monk. In the show, I often see the character Ikkyū wears a straw hat. In addition, the straw coat, known as mino (蓑) in Japan, is a traditional Japanese garment that functions like a raincoat and is often used in snowy regions. Lastly, the gift of rice reflects the Asian culture as well. If it is a western story, it will probably be gold which is often seen in western fair tales. The presentation of rice shows culture difference between east and west.