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The 20 Funniest Japanese Expressions (and How to Use Them)

by Kay Mar 13, 2015

1. In Japan, you don’t simply say you’re really, really busy.

You say that you’re “so busy you’d be willing to borrow a cat’s paw for help” (猫の手も借りたい: neko no te mo karitai).

2. In Japan, you don’t just love someone (most often a child or grandchild) to bits.

You say that “it wouldn’t hurt even if you put that someone in your eye” (目の中に入れても痛くない: me no naka ni iretemo itakunai).

3. In Japan, you don’t just get tired of hearing something repeatedly.

You “grow callouses on your ears” (耳にたこができる: mimi ni tako ga dekiru) from hearing the same thing over and over again.

4. In Japan, you don’t just want something really badly.

You want something so much that “your hand comes out of your throat” (喉から手が出る: nodo kara te ga deru).

5. In Japan, when there’s nothing you can do about a situation.

You’re not just helpless; you’re “a carp on a cutting board” (まな板の上の鯉: manaita no ue no koi).

6. In Japan, you don’t just say something is delicious.

You say that “your cheeks are falling off (ほっぺたが落ちる: hoppeta ga ochiru).

7. In Japan, a small amount isn’t called a pittance.

It’s called a “sparrow’s tear” (雀の涙: suzume no namida).

8. In Japan, someone who can help when you’re in a dire situation is not your savior.

That person is your “Buddha in hell” (地獄に仏: jigoku ni hotoke).

9. In Japan, you don’t become paralyzed with fear.

You become “a frog glared at by a snake” (蛇に睨まれた蛙: hebi ni niramareta kaeru).

10. In Japan, when something unexpected and confusing happens.

You’re not just bewildered; you feel like you’ve been “tricked by a fox” (狐につままれる: kitsune ni tumamareru).

11. In Japan, you don’t just take a quick bath.

You “shower like a crow” (烏の行水: karasu no gyozui).

12. In Japan, when a shop or restaurant has very few customers.

You don’t say business is slow; you say “the cuckoos are crying” (閑古鳥が鳴く: kankodori ga naku).

13. In Japan, when two people hate each other.

They’re not just enemies; they have “a dog and monkey relationship” (犬猿の仲: ken-en no naka).

14. In Japan, someone who stands in your way is not just an obstacle.

They’re a “lump above your eye” (目の上のたんこぶ: me no ue no tankobu).

15. In Japan, when two things are completely different in quality, you don’t say that there’s no comparison.

You say that it’s like comparing “the moon and a soft-shell turtle” (月とスッポン: tsuki to suppon).

16. In Japan, when something is very small in size, you don’t say it’s tiny.

You say it’s the size of “a cat’s forehead” (猫の額: neko no hitai).

17. In Japan, when someone is capable and worthy of respect, you don’t just try to follow that person’s example.

You’re supposed to “brew and drink the dirt from under that person’s fingernails” (爪の垢を煎じて飲む: tsume no aka wo senjite nomu).

18. In Japan, a story without a proper ending is not just unfinished.

It’s “a dragonfly with its tail cut off” (尻切れとんぼ: shiri-kire tonbo).

19. In Japan, you don’t just speak honestly.

You “speak with your belly cut open” (腹を割って話す:hara wo watte hanasu).

20. In Japan, someone who has never had to work hard hasn’t just had an easy life.

Such a person is described as “never having had to lift anything heavier than chopsticks” (箸より重いものを持ったことがない: hashi yori omoi mono wo motta koto ga nai).

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