Chiyon's nihongo no tamatebako

Lessons by Chiyon

Body Idioms Part I



There are many expressions which use body parts in Japanese. Let's take a look at a few of them.

Bulletin 鼻が高い



This literally means “one’s nose is high”.


But this isn't Pinocchio in the fairy tale. ^^; When you are proud of something, you raise your head, you think “ahem!,” and your nose goes up. In English you say "hold your head up high", or if you think someone is overproud, you say they are "snooty". This is the origin of 鼻が高い.


鼻が高い means “to be proud of”


For example, when you get a good grade on your test:



My grade on the test was excellent and I’m proud of myself.


And even if it isn't about yourself, you can feel pride. Like, if you have a younger brother who is good at sports:

My brother is an all-around sports player and I’m proud of him.



This literally means “one’s face is large”.


But it doesn't actually mean having a big face.

If you know many people, or you have many relationships in many kinds of fields, you can use this expression.


顔が広い means “to know many people”


Tanaka san knows a lot of people and he is always being greeted everywhere he goes.

This may seem to mean he is a very sociable person, but 顔が広い and 社交的(しゃこうてき sociable) are not  equal.


Some people may be sociable, but they may not have many friends or acquaintances. People who are 顔が広い should know many people, but some might be 顔が広い in that they just have many people whom they know casually from work. Even if acquaintances aren't very close, if there are many, you say 顔が広い.


If you have many おともだち on social networks on the internet, you could say you are 顔が広い.

Body Idioms Part II



There are many expressions which use body parts in Japanese. Let's take a look at a few of them.


This literally means “spread ~ under one’s seat and sit on it.”


I think “to henpeck” or “to rule” are appropriate translations for 尻に敷く.


She henpecks her boyfriend.  Or  She rules her boyfriend.



He is controlled by his wife..

This expression is used from women to men. I’ve never heard it used for a man ruling a woman. It happens to couples who are already married or who have a strong relationship between them.

Maybe men are more easily ruled by women? :p

Or are men simply pretending to lose to women~?

Bulletin 腕が鳴る

This literally means “one’s arms make sound.”

When you do something requiring physical strength, and you are ready to do it, you might stretch your muscles to warm up your body. That sometimes make sounds and is the situation when you would use this 腕が鳴る.


Even if you don’t use your body, if you have something requiring mental ability to do, you are confident you can do it, and you can’t wait to tackle it, you can say 腕が鳴る, too.


腕が鳴る means “can’t wait to show one’s skill”



I can’t wait to face the best team in town.



When he was invited to the potluck party, since he was good at cooking, he was looking forward to showing off his skill.

Body Idioms Part III



Continuing from last time, let's look at a few more body idioms in Japanese.



This literally means to “pull (someone’s) leg(s)”.


I’ve heard that "to pull one's leg" means “to tease” in English, but that's not the Japanese meaning for this idiom.

When you do something or you don’t do something that slows someone or drags someone down, you say

watashi wa, rire- de hashiru noga osokatta node, chi-mu no ashi o hippatta.

Because I was a slow runner, I caused my team trouble.   


watashi ga yasumu koto ni yotte, shokuba no hito tachi no ashi o hipparitakunai.

I don’t want to drag down the people at work by being absent.

I always feel like I’m dragging someone down (誰かの足を引っ張っている ), because I’m always a goof. ^^;




This literally means to “sandwich something between your small ears”. (like other idioms, you can’t do that actually ^^)

When you happen to overhear something and that information may or may not be accurate, you say 小耳に挟む.



kanojo ga nihon he iku toiu uwasa o komimi ni hasanda.

I happened to overhear the rumor that she is going to Japan.



anata ga komimi ni hasanda hanashi wa, hontou dewa nai.

The story you overheard isn’t true.

I’ve heard (小耳に挟んだことがある) that the chairman of Toyota, Okuda says "変わろうとしている人の足を引っ張るな。" (Don’t drag someone down who is trying to make changes (for the better)).

Body Idioms Part IV



And a few more body idioms in Japanese from Chiyon:



This literally means to “have sore ears.”



I think it is common for parents to have to tell children many, many, many times to clean up their stuff.   Just think of your own childhood--or, maybe I was just an unusual child… ^^;


And when these children hear the same thing over and over from their parents, especially when they are being scolded or receiving a lecture, they get an earful and are tired of it. In such a situation, you use this expression.



sono hanashi wa, mimi ni tako ga dekiru hodo nandomo kikasareta

I heard that for the umpteenth time. 


sensei ga, urusaku nando mo onaji koto o chuui suru node, mimi ni tako ga dekita.

I'm sick and tired of my teacher lecturing me over and over.






This literally means “one’s legs change to sticks.”


If you are not used to walking a lot, and suddenly walk for a long time one day, your legs get sore and you feel like you can't take another step. If your legs feel like they are not your own legs anymore, you can say “足が棒になる.”



machi o ichinichijuu sansaku shite ashi ga bou ni natta.

I strolled around town all day long and I walked my legs off. 



ashi ga bou ni naru hodo, aruki mawaru.

I walk and walk till my legs become like a sticks.

Body Idioms Part V





This literally means “Clear the inside of your hands.”


When you have a secret, it is a secret, so, you don’t want to tell that secret. But you might tell it to a person whom you really trust.  It is in this context we use “手の内を明かす.” It is like opening your hands to show someone something important.



shinhannin wa, dorama no kuraimakkusu de, satsujin keikaku no te no uchi o akashita.

The real culprit, at the climax of the drama, gave away his murderous scheme.


te no uchi o akaseba, kare mo rikai shite kureru hazu da.

If you tell him everything, he should also understand.






This literally means “stroke one’s chest from top down.”


I think when you have something heavy on your mind, your heart beats fast. And when the problem settles, you feel relieved. You may put your hand on your chest where your heart is and take a deep breath thinking “よかった!” In such a case, you say 「胸をなでおろす」 



yatto no koto de densha ni ma ni atta watashi wa, mune o nade oroshita.

I was so relieved to finally make it in time for the train.



taishita jiko mo naku, minna, mune o nade oroshita ni chigainai.

Everybody must have been relieved that it wasn't a big accident.

Body Idioms Part VI





This literally means “Even if stuck in my eye, it won't hurt.”


When you put something in your eye, it hurts--bad. But if something is cute enough, you wouldn't mind even putting it in your eye to get a closer look.


kare wa, me ni iretemo itakunai hodo magomusume o kawaigatteiru.

He spoils his granddaughter as if she is the center of the world. 


kanojo wa, sono neko o, me no naka ni iretemo itakunai hodo no aijou de sodatetekita.

She’s brought up that cat with love as if it was the apple of her eye.






This literally means “turn one’s eyes into plates.


I think when you look at something carefully, you furrow your brow and your eyes look narrow like plates. In such a situation, you can say “目を皿にする” or “ 目を皿のようにする.”


The "no you" adds a "seems like" or "almost as if" meaning.



me o sara no you ni shite sagashita ga, wo-ri- o mitsukerarenakatta.

I looked for Wally with my eyes wide open, but I couldn’t find him.


目を皿にして見てみたら、キリンビールの缶の麒麟の絵の中には、「キリン」 の文字が隠されていることがわかった。

me o sara ni shite mite mitara, kirin bi-ru no kan no kirin no e no naka ni wa, "kirin" no moji ga kakusareteiru koto ga wakatta.

I opened my eyes wide and looked at it, and I found that the letters ” キリン “ are hidden in the picture of the kylin* on a can of Kirin beer.


* kylin (noun) a mythical composite animal, often figured on Chinese and Japanese ceramics.

Iroha Uta いろは歌

About いろはうた


Bulletin いろは歌


An Order of Kana


いろは歌 is an old poem said to have been written by 空海(くうかい 774~835)who was a famous Japanese monk in the early 平安時代(Heian Era 794~1185).

It uses each kana only once just like あいうえお, but it is a poem with meaning.


In Kana: In Kanji:

ゑひもせす 京(ん)

わが世 誰ぞ
酔いもせず 京(ん)


Because it is an old poem, the way to use the かな is different from now. There are also many rules that are different from modern grammar. 

  • Some don’t have 濁点(゛ - the voiced consonant mark)
  • 匂えど is written as 匂へど
  • ん is written as む
  • きょう is written as けふ
  • 酔いis written as 酔ひ
  • Some old letters are used (like ゐ, ゑ), etc.


A breakdown of each sentence, how to read it, and the meaning of it in Japanese and English:


Original 「色は匂へど散りぬるを」
いろはにおえど ちりぬるを)
Modern Japanese



The colors of the flowers are so beautiful and fragrant--like a person's beauty or the interesting things in this world.

(いろ) here is the color of flowers, but it has also the meaning of the affairs of men and women, or the many events of this world.  These flowers despite their beauty today will disappear. My life is also ephemeral just like these flowers. There are many things I enjoy in my life, but they all have an end.




「わが世 誰ぞ常ならむ」

(わがよ だれぞ つねならん)

Modern Japanese



My life is like that. Who can say it won’t long last forever without change? No, nobody can. It ends at last.

Some says わが世 is "I rule my world" and the author is the one who ruled that era.





(ういのおくやま きょうこえて)

Modern Japanese



I pass over the deep mountain called 宇井(うい)in 京都(Kyoto today.


He was a 武士(ぶし samurai warrior) and he decided to leave his life as a 武士 to become a monk to go to the temple in 高野山(こうやさん Mt. Koya in Wakayama prefecture). He travels by foot passing over the mountain in Kyoto. He leaves behind the 武士 life because he has an unendurable angst in his life. I don’t know what it was, but I imagine it may have arisen from too much killing, or his love affairs, or the struggle for power within the 武士 system, etc.


有為(うい) is also the word which means to wake up to the true reality; to remove from being a slave of mutable matters in our daily life which he compared to flowers. That is to say, to attain enlightenment in Buddhism.


So, 'passing that mountain' means, he chose to become a pupil of Buddhism leaving his enjoyable life behind, but having sorrow, too.


今日 also rhymes with of 京都.




「浅き夢見し酔いもせず 京」

(あさきゆめみし よいもせず きょう)

Modern Japanese



No more shallow dreams; no more wanton drunkeness.


I passed over the mountain of life, but it was like having a shallow dream or being drunk. But now that dream no longer intoxicates me anymore. I've cleared up worldly desires, feel peace and the state of enlightenment. I don’t have any concerns about anything at all. I'm on the way from Kyoto toward the gate of the temple.



It is really difficult to stop being anxious about all desires and greedy feelings in our lives.  But I think he thought on how to accomplish that when making this poem.


It is a very short poem, but it contains many ideas. There are more allusions in this poem I found, but I think I’ll write about it next time…..

Inubou Karuta uses the Iroha order, see the Karuta page for translations and audio.

For more information and several more poetic English translations, see the Wikipedia entry.

Comparing 午前 and 午後 with A.M. and P.M.

Chiyon's Nihongo no Tamatebako


Comparing 午前 and 午後 with A.M. and P.M.


Quick: Is Noon 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.?


The 12-hour notation using A.M. and P.M. is common in many parts of the English speaking world.  One o’clock through eleven o’clock in the morning is written as 1 a.m., 2 a.m., etc.  And one o’clock through eleven o’clock in the evening is written as 1 p.m., 2 p.m., etc. 


But Midnight is 12 a.m. and Noon is 12 p.m.  Most English speakers simply have this memorized, but for those of us who have trouble keeping this straight, Wikipedia's entry on this subject has this bit of advice:


“In the United States, noon is often called ‘12:00 p.m.’ and midnight ‘12:00 a.m.’. With this convention, thinking of ‘12’ as ‘0’ makes the system completely logical.”


With that in mind (midnight=0 a.m.), the Japanese way of counting time is easier to understand. 


From zero o’clock (midnight) to eleven o’clock in the morning we write

  • Midnight is 午前0時 (ごぜんれいじ)
  • 午前1時(ごぜんいちじ)
  • 午前2時(ごぜんにじ)・・・・・・
  • 午前10時(ごぜんじゅうじ)
  • 午前11時(ごぜんじゅういちじ)
  • And Noon is 午前12時(ごぜんじゅうにじ). 

Government offices or insurance companies in Japan write time this way with Midnight being 午前0時 and noon being 午前12時.


However, the media (TV, radio, newspapers, etc) and most people in daily life call noon 午後0時. 


Japanese digital clocks show noon as 12:00 p.m.  Following the Japanese style, noon on the clocks really should be 12:00 a.m. or 0:00 p.m. (with 12:00 p.m. being midnight = 午後12時 or 午前0時)


We often use 午前・午後 in the same way as the English a.m. and p.m.  This makes our time system confusing.


At the moment, 午前12時 seems to be the correct way to indicate noon in Japanese law.