In this lesson, we’re going to look at ten more commonly-used 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 figurative 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.
雨降って地固まる (Ame futte ji katamaru)
Literal meaning: The rain falls, the ground hardens.
Figurative meaning: Adversity builds character.
English equivalent: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
花より団子 (Hana yori dango)
Literal meaning: Dumplings rather than flowers.
Figurative meaning: To prefer functional items over merely decorative ones.
English equivalent: Substance over style.
因果応報 (Inga ōhō)
Literal meaning: Bad causes, bad results.
Figurative meaning: Bad actions will catch up with a person eventually.
English equivalent: What goes around comes around.
十人十色 (Jūnin toiro)
Literal meaning: Ten people, ten colors.
Figurative meaning: Different things appeal to different people.
English equivalent: Different strokes for different folks.
小耳に挟む (Komimi ni hasamu)
Literal meaning: To be caught in a small ear.
Figurative meaning: To overhear a bit of something.
丸くおさめる (Maruku osameru)
Literal meaning: To put it round.
Figurative meaning: To resolve a dispute or quarrel.
English equivalent: Smooth things over.
水に流す(Mizu ni nagasu)
Literal meaning: Shed in water.
Figurative meaning: To forgive past transgressions and not hold grudges.
English equivalent: Water under the bridge.
七転び八起き (Nana korobi ya oki)
Literal meaning: Fall down seven times and stand up eight.
Figurative meaning: Never give up.
English equivalent: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru)
Literal meaning: Even monkeys fall from trees.
Figurative meaning: Everyone makes mistakes.
English equivalent: You’re only human.
一日一歩 (Yī rì yībù)
Literal meaning: Day by day.
Figurative meaning: Take things slowly and step by step.
English equivalent: One day at a time.