Goldfish poop – Japanese phrases, part two

by Stratton Craig

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If you’re keeping track of our blog series on Japanese phrases that get a little lost in translation, you’ll know that we’ve already covered ducks carrying leeks and the risk of eating too much fugu. This time, we’re moving away from foods and going with a more general animal theme.

This instalment’s title refers to ‘a hanger-on’ or someone who persistently sticks around. In Japanese, these types of people are known as ‘kingyo no fun’:
(金魚の糞) – goldfish poop.

To move swiftly away to something that lives on land, it’s said that fox pups have white cheeks. So goes the phrase ‘kitsune no ko wa hatsurajiro’, a phrase English speakers would more commonly translate as ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’.
The other way to say this is ‘kaeru no ko ha kaeru’, or ‘the child of a frog is a frog’.
Both symbolise the fact that some things just never change.

Horses are also a popular animal to use in sayings, such as in ‘shimoshita ni oyobazu’.
(しみ下に及ばず) – talking so fast that even a four-horse coach couldn’t catch the words up. Or more literally, ‘even four horses can’t reach out to your tongue’.

Even cows have their moment, as you’ll know if you’ve ever heard a Japanese businessman say ‘akinai ha ushi no yodare’.
It means that ‘one should not rush to make a profit’ in business. To translate it directly would give you ‘(business) deals are the drool of cows’ – flowing long and thin. The idea is similar to ‘slow and steady wins the race’, which here in the UK we’d more readily associate with a tortoise.

In part three, I’ll take you through the various ways to describe an idiot. Given the relative lack of swear words in Japanese, you won’t want to miss these searing insults. Stay tuned.

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