The Nail that Sticks Out Shall Be Hammered Down

Original Script: 出る釘は打たれる

Romanization: Delu kugi wa u-ita relu

Transliteration: To be out the nail hit is to be.

Translation: The nail that sticks out shall be hammered down.

Genre: Japanese proverb. 

Context: My maternal grandmother told me this proverb over the phone the summer before I started college, as I had complained to her that I had been bullied throughout high school. This was true– I had grown up in an environment whose values differed significantly from my own, and as such, I always felt ‘persecuted’ in a way, as I did not mesh well with my classmates. This was her way of giving me advice to make college a little bit easier. 

Analysis: At first, I disregarded this as some sort of victim blaming, as my maternal grandmother did have a way of making all calamities the fault of the victim. I realized later on that this was her way of maintaining agency over a dark, cruel world and the thought that misfortune randomly befell undeserving individuals was too much to bear. Regardless, I knew that this was common in Japan, and I just filed it away as a ‘cultural difference’ without realizing how miserable it made me in school. I was already different enough – being Asian, an immigrant, and so forth – that broadly claiming my opinion that I knew would be at odds with those of my peers would understandably result in bullying. I didn’t compromise my values, but I was being unique just for the sake of visibility.. I knew I was right (according to my own belief system), but I was choosing to make a POINT of being right. I was making my own nail stick out as far as possible, and then was wondering why I was hammered down!