When I still worked at an elementary school, the kitchen staff decided to have a British cuisine themed school lunch one day. This was very nice and flattering and all but despite asking me for food suggestions it was obvious that the menu had been designed by someone who had never been within 500 miles of the UK. So that day, in spring 2012, we ate something similar to shepherd’s pie, vegetable soup, cheese bread, an apple and tea jelly.
Having tea jelly was certainly an experience but what stuck out most for me that day was something written on the Paku Paku Dayori. I noticed that they had written the old proverb, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” on the sheet. It was a delight to see this translated in Japanese to “１日１個のりんごを食べるとお医者さんがいらない” which kinda means “1 day, eat 1 apple and you don’t need a doctor”.
This led me to wonder about other proverbs said by Japanese people which might be similar to the ones we use in English.
It turns out there are quite a few.
Roma wa ichinichi ni shite narasu
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
This one is literally exactly the same.
1 stone, 2 birds.
Same meaning as “Killing two birds with one stone”, only this time maybe the birds haven’t been killed, only slightly maimed.
Neko ni koban
Coins to a cat.
Have you ever given money to your cats? Did they know what to do with them? Nope… This one means the same as “Pearls before swine”.
The miso soup in front of you.
It’s annoying if a person goes on and on about how great their home-made miso soup tastes. The same as “Singing one’s own praises”
There are loads of proverbs that aren’t in English though
Uma no mini ni nenbutsu
A buddhist prayer into a horse’s ear.
There is no point saying prayers to a horse because he won’t understand what you are talking about. This one basically refers to a person who shows no sign at all of listening to what someone is telling them. It is also related to my favourite Japanese idiom, “Bajitoufu“. Which basically means in one ear and out the other.
However my favourite proverb is:
Saru mo ki kara ochiru
Monkeys also fall from trees.
This is basically saying that even experts can muck things up too. I have yet to find an opportunity to use this in conversation but when that day comes I will be a very happy man indeed.