Body Part Idioms

Hand Idioms Part I


This is the first in a series of Body Part Idioms. Listen to the idiom and then study the example sentence.

Two idoms using the hand


use one's discretion; pull one’s punches; take it easy on someone


aitsu ga sotsugyoushiken ni goukaku suru nante, sensei ga tegokoro o kuwaeta ni chigainai.
For that bonehead to have passed his graduation exam, the teachers must have looked the other way.

あいつ aitsu—that guy (slang)
卒業試験 sotsugyou shiken—graduation test
合格 goukaku—passing (a test); success
なんて nante—such as… (exclamation)
先生 sensei—teacher
手心 tegokoro—discretion; consideration
加える kuwaeru—to append; to add; to increase
~に違いない ~ni chigainai—without doubt


even if it means living in poverty


tenabe sagetemo, anata to kekkon shitai
Even if it means living in the humblest of cottages (with only a pot and a pan), I want to marry you.

手鍋 te nabe—a pan with a handle
さげても sagetemo—even if (we are) reduced to… [下げる]
あなたと anata to—with you
結婚 kekkon—marry
したい shitai—want to (marry)

Hand Idioms Part II


Japanese is a language full of fun idioms. Let's explore a few Body Part Idioms using the Hand.

These two idioms are perhaps the most useful 'hand' idioms in Japanese.

Listen to the idiom and then study the example sentence.


to have one's hands full; be up to here (with something); busy


te ga ippai de, ima wa nani mo dekimasen.
My hands are full; I can’t do anything right now.

いっぱい ippai—full; lots
なにも nani mo—nothing [ends with negative verb (dekimasen)]
できません dekimasen—can’t do (anything)


to obtain; get; come by...


naganen hoshikatta anti-ku hin o te ni ireta.
I got my hands on an antique that I’ve wanted for years.

長年 naganen—a long time; many years
ほしかった hoshikatta—wanted
アンティーク品 anti-ku hin—an antique object
入れた ireta—put something into something

Japanese Idiom 木で鼻をくくる Give a Blunt Answer


  • ki de hana wo kukuru
  • tie your nose with a tree; to give a blunt answer
Have you ever received a curt reply from someone? Did you feel blown off or even hurt by the rudeness?

Then you can say you were given “ki de hana wo kukutta youna kotae.

This idiom is not widely used in Japan anymore, however it is a fun body-part idiom with an interesting history.

  • 彼は上司に相談してみたが、木で鼻をくくったような返事だった。
  • kare wa joushi ni soudan shite mita ga, ki de hana wo kukutta youna henji data.
  • He reported to his boss but the boss only gave him a blunt answer.
  • 彼はkare wa -- he
  • 上司に joushi ni -- to his boss
  • 相談してみたが soudan shite mita ga -- reported but
  • 木で ki de -- by tree
  • hana -- nose
  • wo -- [object marker]
  • くくった kukutta -- tied
  • ような youna -- like, as
  • 返事 henji -- reply, answer
  • だった datta -- was, were

Other info (etymology 語源, more examples, usage notes)

Tie your nose with a tree... 

This is used when someone's curt reply was very cold to you. You've already learned that's what it means, but how can a tree tie your nose? A tree is way too hard... Maybe with softer wood, but it still does not make sense.

This idiom originally was "kokuru the nose with a tree." kokuru means to "to rub." Another rarely used word in modern Japanese. This was misused and changed to kukuru. That corruption of kokuru started the drift from the original meaning.

It seems when Japanese blew their nose long time ago, because the paper was very expensive, they rubbed their noses with wood. The facial expression looked very blunt from the rough wood fibers. Hence, this idiom came about..

Masaya Nagayasu is an accomplished businessman from Osaka. Having moved to California when he was only eleven, he can relate to the struggles of learners of Japanese. That experience led to other overseas opportunities and his current entrepreneurial activities.

After working in Melbourne, Australia for more than 7 years as a Business Planning Manager for a Japanese manufacturer, Mr. Nagayasu moved back to Osaka and began his own businesses helping the Japanese business world interact with the English speaking world.

Mr. Nagayasu is now a marketing consultant for traditional Japanese craft makers (Excellent Products in Kansai: ) and a business development manager for overseas businesses (Osaka Business Partner

Japanese Idiom 足が棒になる My Dogs are Barking


  • ashi ga bou ni naru
  • to walk one's legs off; have very sore legs; my dogs are barking
  • Have you ever walked so much your legs feel like boards? Next time that happens, say, "ashi ga bou ni natta."
  • Literally, "legs become staffs." This comes from tired legs getting as stiff as a board.
  • 一日中歩いたので、足が棒になった。
  • ichinichi juu aruita node, ashi ga bou ni natta.
  • I walked all day, and now my legs are as stiff as a board.
  • 一日 ichi nichi -- one day
  • 一日中 ichinichi juu -- throughout the day [adding 中 chuu or juu adds the meaning of "throughout" or "in the course of...": 一年中 ichinenjuu throughout the year (every day of the year); a common sign on stores that are open throughout the year is: 年中無休 nenjuumukyuu open throughout the year [literally, throughout the year, no resting]; this can be used for space too: 日本中 nihonjuu throughout Japan; 町中 machijuu throughout the town; 学校中 gakkoujuu throughout the school]
  • 歩いた aruita -- walked [past of 歩く aruku to walk]
  • ので node -- because; therefore
  • ashi -- leg
  • ga -- [subject marker]
  • bou -- pole; rod; stick
  • になった ni natta -- became
For more on this idiom, checkout Chiyon's Nihongo no Tamatebako which includes a few more example sentences of this useful idiom.

口が堅い tight-lipped; able to keep a secret


  • kuchi ga katai
  • tight-lipped; able to keep a secret; lips are sealed
  • 彼は、口が堅いので、秘密を話しても大丈夫だ。
  • kare wa, kuchi ga katai node, himitsu wo hanashitemo daijoubu da.
  • He is pretty tight-lipped, so even telling him secrets is fine.
  • kare -- he
  • wa -- (the topic marker--sets "he" as the main topic of the sentence.)
  • ので node -- therefore; because
  • 秘密 himitsu -- secret
  • 話しても hanashitemo -- even if (you) speak
  • 大丈夫 daijoubu -- OK; fine

口が重い be slow to speak; tongue-tied


  • kuchi ga omoi
  • to be slow to speak; tongue-tied
  • 佐藤さんは、口が重いので、デート中なにも話しませんでした。
  • satou san wa, kuchi ga omoi node, de-to chuu nani mo hanashimasen deshita.
  • Because Satou is naturally quiet, she didn't say anything during her date.
  • 佐藤さん satou san - Satou (a common Japanese family name)
  • wa - (the topic marker--sets "Satou" as the main topic of the sentence.)
  • ので node - therefore; because
  • デート中 de-to chuu - during a date
  • なにも nanimo - nothing; not at all
  • 話しませんでした hanashimasen deshita - didn't speak

口を割る to spill the beans


  • kuchi wo waru
  • confess; spill the beans; tell all
  • 犯人は、ようやく口を割った。
  • hannin wa, youyaku kuchi wo watta.
  • The criminal finally spilled the beans.
  • 犯人 hannin - criminal; bad guy
  • wa - (the topic marker--sets "Satou" as the main topic of the sentence.)
  • ようやく youyaku - finally; at last

揚げ足を取る to find fault with someone


  • ageashi o toru
  • to find fault with someone
  • 原田さんは人の揚げ足ばかり取るので、楽しい会話ができない。
  • harada san wa hito no ageashi bakari toru node, tanoshii kaiwa ga dekinai.
  • Since Harada is always making fun of the mistakes of others, it is hard to have a pleasant conversation.
  • 原田さん harada san - Harada (a common Japanese family name)
  • wa - (the topic marker--sets "Harada" as the main topic of the sentence.)
  • 人の hito no - people's [here it means "other people's"]
  • ばかり bakari - nothing but; always (picking on others)
  • ので node - that being the case; because of
  • 楽しい tanoshii - fun; enjoyable
  • 会話 kaiwa - conversation