In this lesson, we’re going to look at ten common Japanese idiomatic expressions. Knowing basic idioms can increase your understanding of any language, not to mention your degree of acceptance by native speakers. For each Japanese idiom, we’ve provided a literal translation and (where applicable) the essential meaning and a modern American English equivalent.
If you need more help with idioms, or any other aspect of the Japanese language, contact the Language Island in Atlanta. Our caring, passionate Japanese teachers can create a lesson plan that is tailored to your individual needs.
頭に来る (Atama ni kuru)
Literal Meaning: Come to mind, come to a head.
Essential meaning: To become angry.
English equivalent: Come to a head; reach a boiling/breaking point.
会わせる顔がない (Awa seru kao ga nai)
Literal meaning: I have no face to show.
Essential meaning: Too ashamed or embarrassed to meet someone.
English equivalent: I’m ashamed to show my face.
豚に真珠 (Buta ni sinjyu)
Literal meaning: A pearl to a pig.
Essential meaning: It is pointless to give a gift someone doesn’t appreciate its value.
English equivalent: Pearls before swine.
郷に入っては郷に従え (Gō ni itte ha gō ni shitagae)
Literal Meaning: Enter the village, follow the township.
Essential meaning: Follow and respect all local customs and traditions.
English equivalent: When in Rome, do as Romans do.
Literal meaning: Resuscitation.
Essential meaning: To turn a bad situation into a successful one.
English equivalent: When live gives you lemons, make lemonade; make the best of a bad situation.
口が軽い (Kuchi ga karui)
Literal Meaning: A light mouth
Essential meaning: Unable to keep a secret.
English equivalent: Blabbermouth, gossip, loose-lipped, tattletale, etc.
のどから手が出る (Nodo kara te ga deru)
Literal meaning: I get a hand from my throat.
Essential meaning: To desperately desire [something].
English equivalent: Wanting [something] so badly that you can taste it.
大目玉を食らう (Omedama wo kurau)
Literal meaning: Eat big eyes.
Essential meaning: To be rebuked or scolded.
English equivalent: To be chewed out, dressed down, etc.
Literal Meaning: Not knowing is Buddha.
English equivalent: Ignorance is bliss.
手を抜く (Te o nuku)
Literal Meaning: To pull a hand.
Essential meaning: To do a poor or substandard job.
English equivalent: Cut corners; phone it in.