13 mind-expanding Japanese quotes & home truths translated into English

New year = new life, right?  Or at very least, new inspiration. Japan has a long tradition of coming up with the pithy one-liner. So I’ve put together a collection of wisdom and life advice from calligraphy to comics, sports-people to samurai, car commercials to kawaii characters. 
Let’s start with some heartwarmers from the world of manga. How about we go ahead and clear up the vexed issue of how to properly categorise the people in our life? 

 

Translation: 

“The people you meet with for no good reason are Friends.

The people you don’t meet without a reason are Acquaintances.

The people you make up a reason to meet are the people you love.”

 

We can thank Miyazaki Hayao and Studio Ghibli for clearing up the nature of human relationships in the anime Whisper of the Heart

 

And what about that night sky that we walk with our loved ones beneath? What can the world of anime and manga tell us about that?

Translation: 

“The night sky is a window for earth to look out at space.”

 

Okay, but it’s not all wide eyes and wonder in the comic cosmos.

How about this one from the outrageously inefficiently titled Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen Mae Hashutsujo (こちら葛飾区亀有公園前派出所, lit. “This is the Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward”)

Translation: 

“Even if I read 100 books a day like you police chiefs, it wouldn’t make me any smarter. It’s just following along after the type print across the page, right? After all, it’s just some stuff somebody else has written.

Me; I look, I hear, I learn. It’s because I judge for myself, that I am a human with the ability to have my own sense of creativity with my own ideas.”

 

That’s ol’ salt-of-the-earth Ryo-san dispensing some real world wisdom to the big wigs, and vicariously, to you and I.

But we can go darker. Let’s go loan-shark-dark!

Translation: 

“People should be able to make enemies.

It’s the self-righteous, the weak people that lie to themselves that can’t.” 

 

That’s some serious street wisdom to live by from Ushijima the Loan Shark (闇金ウシジマくん Yamikin Ushijima-kun).  How many enemies have you chalked up this year? You need to get on it.

Now we’re getting real. So let’s jump, Shonen style, out of the drawn frame and check-in with a couple of characters you probably know from the IRL realm.

Why not learn from some flesh and blood heroes, such as US Major League legend Ichiro?

Translation: 

“It is the layering up of small things that takes you to unimaginable places. 

That is the only road.”


From little acorns great oaks grow. 

And if you’re a student, and really aren’t we all (Aummmmmmm), the acorn starts from hitting the books. Or the internets. 

It was probably still books in Takeshi Kitano’s early days. But he can still offer up some tough life advice for academics and students of the school-of-hard-knocks alike:

Translation: 

“Because you study, you find what you want to do.

Because you don’t study, you don’t find what you want to do.”

 

In Takeshi’s case, his studies helped him find out he wanted to make films about characters stabbing eachother in the eye with chopsticks. Strange where life takes you.

 

And while we’re going badass Japanese warrior, why not get a little historical?

It doesn’t get much more badass than being one of the three Samurai to unify the Japanese archipelago in days of yor. That’s who you want to be taking life advise from. Tell ’em Oda Nobunaga.

Translation:

“Work is something you seek out. It is something you create.

Completing only the task that has been assigned to you is the work of the rank and file.”

 

And that is the secret to taking over a nation by military force. In case that’s your thing.

But Samurai were all about going the extra mile.

Translation:

“Doing with all your might brings forth wisdom.

Doing with half a heart brings forth stupidity.

Doing the bare minimum brings forth excuses.”

 

 

So if you  want to be a modern day life-samurai, no shirking!

Is it too long a bow to draw between the war-period ideals of feudal Japan and it’s famed modern corporate motor industry?

How about some inspirational adverts from Japan’s big-auto PR machines? This is “Just Do It”, Japanese style. Times ten. Get this one tattooed on your bicep.

Translation:

“If you do your best, someday you will be rewarded.” “If you wait long enough, your dreams will come true.” These are just pure fantasies. Most of the time, effort goes unrewarded. Most of the time, justice does not prevail. Most of the time, dreams do not come true. In the real world, these are common occurrences. And what of it? This is the starting point. Failure is 99% of technical development. If you do something new, you’re going to screw up. It’ll make you angry. It’ll haunt you when you’re sleeping and when you’re eating, and so you’ll keep going. Now, it’s time to go beyond who you were yesterday. We’re going past the Honda of yesterday. 

Who could beat you?”

 

Inspirational right? I know I try to get my life advice from the multi-nationals. So why stop at one auto-manufacturing add? Honda is on a roll.

Translation:

“Having fun won’t put food on the table. But a life without fun has no flavour. Work, study, racing. It’s all the same.

It’s only curiousity that moves us.”

And for you hardcore Japanoscopers out there, “omoshiroi” is usually translated as interesting. But “interesting” is boring. So curious it is. Are you with me?

And let’s finish up with some bravado from the world of Japanese calligraphy and philosophy. These are some fine ones you could wack up on some thicker gauge washi paper and place in your Tokonoma, no problemo. 

Translation:

“If you never act, you are at the same level as someone who has never thought.”

 

I imagine a zen inspired super-hero using this as their tagline. The one they tell to the bad guy before they whip some ass. Actually, can someone make that hero? Or tell me about it if that hero already exists? I digress. Philosophy, here we come.

Translation:

“Words can only express so much.

Communicate through action.”

 

You gotta walk the walk, my fellow shugyosha. No use thinking “I love you”, do something that shows it. Unless you are a buddhist monk, and then you can just sit in the mountains and emanate out loving kindness to the world. Actually, if you are a buddhist monk, stop reading this blog and get emanating!

If you want get  a more modern take on Japanese ideas of non-dualism, nihlism and love, I suggest you check out our translation of the heart-breaking Tenniscoats song Halo.

Translation:

“Effort is a moment of pain. 

Regret is a lifetime of pain.”

 

Do you want a lifetime of pain? No! So heed the wise word of these Japanese quotes, proverbs and sayings. And surely you couldn’t help but have a prosperous year!

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