Japanese Idioms and Expressions

Two young girls laugh at a dining table in a restaurant

Many elements of Japanese culture are prevalent in American life. People are familiar with Japanese food, entertainment, and technology but may not know the idioms and expressions commonly used in Japan.

One’s act, one’s profit.

The idiom “one’s act, one’s profit” reflects the same meaning as the US phrase, “you reap what you sow” – everyone eventually faces the consequences of their actions. There is a similar Japanese idiom, “evil cause, evil effect,” but this version suggests that karma intervenes to give people what they deserve.

Different body, same mind. Two bodies, one heart.

People use this idiom to describe like-minded individuals. The English equivalent could be soul mates or kindred spirits, but this Japanese phrase is broader and includes two friends who share the same beliefs or interests. 

Beautiful person, thin life.

In America, we say, “beauty fades” to describe how outward looks don’t last forever; in Japan, people say, “beautiful person, thin life.” The Japanese version expresses more superstition it means a beautiful person is destined for premature death. 

A frog in a well does not know the great sea.

This idiom does not have a direct English equivalent. “A frog in a well does not know the great sea” means that individuals make judgments based on their own experience and don’t have knowledge outside of their worldview; so, if a frog always lived in a well, he wouldn’t know that the sea exists. People also use this idiom in a similar way to the US expression “a big fish in a small pond” or someone who is a big deal in their small, isolated environment. 

It is easier to give birth than to worry about it.

If you ever find yourself stressing out about something that hasn’t happened yet, this Japanese idiom is for you. “It is easier to give birth than to worry about it” means stressing about something is often worse than the actual event, and even if the event is hard, worrying doesn’t help.

Learn More:
Thirty Awesome Japanese Idioms
Sixty-Nine Wonderful Japanese Idioms and Expressions