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TOP 20 Idioms

What is Japanese Idiom

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning different from the literal meanings of the individual words. In Japanese, idioms are called 慣用句 (かんようく, kan'yōku) or 熟語 (じゅくご, jukugo). They often carry cultural significance and convey ideas in a concise way.

猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru)

Meaning: Even experts can make mistakes.

Example: No matter how skilled you are, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Even monkeys fall from trees.

灯台下暗し (Tōdai moto kurashi)

Meaning: It's hard to see what's under your nose.

Example: He always loses his keys even though they are always on the table. It's a classic case of not seeing what's right in front of you.

馬の耳に念仏 (Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu)

Meaning: Talking to someone who won't listen.

Example: Telling him to be careful is pointless. It's like preaching to a horse.

猫に小判 (Neko ni koban)

Meaning: Giving something valuable to someone who doesn't understand its value.

Example: Giving her that expensive book was a waste. It's like giving gold coins to a cat.

雨降って地固まる (Ame futte ji katamaru)

Meaning: Adversity strengthens the foundation.

Example: After their big argument, their relationship was even stronger. Rain makes the ground harder.

二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず (Nito wo ou mono wa itto wo mo ezu)

Meaning: Chasing two hares, one catches neither.

Example: If you try to do two things at once, you'll fail at both.

知らぬが仏 (Shiranu ga hotoke)

Meaning: Ignorance is bliss.

Example: Not knowing the details of the problem kept him happy. Ignorance is truly bliss.

泣きっ面に蜂 (Nakittsura ni hachi)

Meaning: Misfortune rarely comes alone.

Example: He lost his job and then his car broke down. It's like getting stung by a bee when you're already crying.

口は災いの元 (Kuchi wa wazawai no moto)

Meaning: The mouth is the source of disaster.

Example: He got into trouble because he couldn't keep a secret. His mouth was the root of his problems.

三人寄れば文殊の知恵 (Sannin yoreba monju no chie)

Meaning: Three heads are better than one.

Example: We couldn't solve the problem alone, but with three of us together, we found a solution. Three people bring the wisdom of Monju.

花より団子 (Hana yori dango)

Meaning: Substance over style.

Example: He prefers a practical gift over a beautiful one. He chooses dumplings over flowers.

釈迦に説法 (Shaka ni seppō)

Meaning: Preaching to the Buddha.

Example: Trying to explain basic coding to him is like teaching Buddha. He already knows it all.

寝耳に水 (Nemimi ni mizu)

Meaning: A bolt from the blue.

Example: The news of his resignation was completely unexpected, like water in the ear of a sleeping person.

案ずるより産むが易し (Anzuru yori umu ga yasushi)

Meaning: It's easier done than said.

Example: She was worried about the exam, but it turned out to be easier than she thought. It was easier to give birth than to worry.

一石二鳥 (Isseki nichō)

Meaning: Killing two birds with one stone.

Example: By cleaning the house while listening to an audiobook, she achieved two things at once.

初心忘るべからず (Shoshin wasuru bekarazu)

Meaning: Never forget your beginner's spirit.

Example: Even though he is now a master, he always remembers to stay humble and eager to learn, never forgetting his beginner's spirit.

船頭多くして船山に登る (Sendō ōku shite fune yama ni noboru)

Meaning: Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Example: With so many people giving advice, the project ended up a mess, like a boat with too many rowers heading up a mountain.

虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず (Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu)

Meaning: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Example: She took a big risk to start her own business, but she knew she wouldn't succeed without it. You can't catch a tiger cub without entering the tiger's den.

焼け石に水 (Yake ishi ni mizu)

Meaning: A drop in the bucket.

Example: Donating a small amount to the huge charity fund felt like throwing water on a hot stone.

七転び八起き (Nanakorobi yaoki)

Meaning: Fall seven times, stand up eight.

Example: Despite facing many setbacks, he never gave up and eventually succeeded. He fell seven times but stood up eight.

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