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Tweet of the Week #132: Rats Biting Cats and Other Japanese Proverbs

What are some of the most well-known Japanese proverbs?

By 2 min read

Japanese Proverbs are often very metaphorical. But some are rooted in life experiences and express very down-to-earth practical wisdom. Last week, a classic Japanese adage was shared via video by user VDjvdq.

Rat bites cat

先日せんじつあねがとった動画どうが

わたしてなかったんですが窮鼠猫きゅうそねこむってこういうことだな、としみじみおもいました。

“[Here’s a] video my sister took the other day.

I did not witness the scene, but thought that’s what ‘despair gives courage to a coward’ means.”

Literally, the proverb means “a cornered rat will bite the cat.” The story illustrates that placed in a desperate situation, we rise above our limitations and act bravely—like this rat fighting for its life. A lesson learned for this stray kitty!

Japanese proverbs you should know

Hon’ne o iu to, hashi yori omotai mono o motta koto ga nai…

ハトが豆鉄砲まめでっぽうったよう

“A pigeon struck with a [pea-shooter].”

The real meaning is “to be startled or puzzled by a sudden event.” Hit by a pea out of nowhere probably does just that.

いもあらうよう

“Like washing potatoes.”

This relatively new expression is about your morning commute during peak hours. In Japan, potatoes are traditionally washed in a barrel. This expression means being caught in a crowd in a narrow space like a train.

はしよりおもものったことがない

“I’ve never held anything heavier than chopsticks.”

A cynical, but perhaps an accurate description of privileged people who don’t need to work hard and lift more than chopstick.

んではい[るなつむし

“Like a summer bug flying into fire.”

This ancient proverb goes back at least to the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Literally, the phrase means. The expression compares the foolish death of insects flying toward the light of a fire to the foolish actions of a reckless person and is used as a warning for other people.

Vocabulary

Japanese Romaji English
先日せんじつ senjitsu The other day, a few days ago
あね ane Sister
動画どうが douga Video
窮鼠きゅうそ kyuuso Cornered rat
kamu Bite
しみじみ shimijimi Keenly
豆鉄砲まめでっぽう mameteppou Pea-shooter, a kid’s toy similar to a blow pipe, used to blow peas and beans

 

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