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15 Japanese Proverbs That Will Help Your Career

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Learning Japanese proverbs will help you understand Japanese culture. They contain ancient wisdom. Some of them will teach you what to do in a work situation and boost your career.

諺 (ことわざ) is the Japanese word for proverb. There are three types of Japanese proverbs: short saying (言い習わし, いいならわし), idiomatic phrase (慣用句, かんようく), and four-character idiom (四字熟語, よじじゅくご).

In this article, we have compiled 15 proverbs that will help your career in Japan. Here they are!




Big things often have small beginnings

This proverb talks about the snowball effect. Little mundane things can pile up too many serious matters. A tiny leak in a big ship can make it sink because no one fixes it and let it worsen over time. Every day in our life, there are always small mistakes or inconveniences that we ignore, thinking it's just a trivial problem. However, if we don't fix it while it's easy, it will be a disaster later.




Continuance is power

Many Japanese proverbs talk about persistence. This proverb is one of them. If we do a task slowly but surely, it will be complete even if we think it's impossible before. Consistency will give you the power and knowledge to do your work, and after a while, your job will be easier for you.




Constant dripping wears away the stone

Putting a dent in hard stone with water seems impossible. Water is soft while rock is hard. However, the continuous soft touch will make an impact. While working, we may find hard tasks, especially during the first year. For some of us, this struggle will lower self-esteem and cause stress. This proverb teaches us if we work consistently, we will be rewarded with great results.




Three years on a (cold) stone (will make the stone warm)

This proverb also talks about perseverance and consistency. It tells us that continuous action will pay off in the end. Working towards your goal may be tiring, but you should never give up. If you quit, you won't get the taste of victory. Therefore, you need to hang on a little more.




Adversity makes a man wise

Hardships will improve our character. When facing obstacles, we usually can't see their meaning and positive impacts on our life. Only after overcoming those problems, can we look back and reflect. That is why we should never stay in our comfort zone. We won't grow if stuck in life without challenges and struggles.




One's act, one's profit

This proverb has a similar meaning to you reap what you sow. Our profit is the result of our hard work. If we don't work hard enough, we should not have high expectations. For example, lazy, undedicated employees won't get promotions in their companies. If they feel disappointed, they have nothing to blame except their action and expectation.




If you do not enter the tiger's cave, you will not catch its cub

To achieve something, you have to take a risk. International workers in Japan sacrifice a lot. They have to live far from family, out of comfort in an unfamiliar culture, and struggle with language barriers daily. However, all of those are not for nothing. They may get new family and friends, better financial and mental health, and such. If you ever doubt a decision, consider if the risk is worth it and take it.




The nail that sticks out is struck

This proverb gives a glimpse of Japanese society. In a collectivist society, blending in with others is preferred. This proverb doesn't mean that every different thing should be corrected. It is just when someone sticks out, that they are prone to criticism.

If you work for a Japanese company, you'll realize that people rarely try to stand out. Even if your Japanese coworkers don't agree with something, they may go along with the majority to avoid confrontation and argument. This can be surprising for foreigners, especially if they come from an individualist society.




It's easier to give birth than to think about it

While planning your future is good, overthinking it will ruin it all. Your energy will run out before you even start. Some work may seem difficult, but you don't need to stress over it. You just need to start working because it is often much easier than you think. Even if you have doubts and worries, you can figure it out along the way.




Those who chase two hares won't even catch one

Even though many consider multitasking productive, it's actually the opposite. Juggling two or more tasks at the same time will slow down your performance. Nothing will be 100 percent complete because your attention is never fully on it. Therefore, you won't be satisfied with your results.




A frog in a well knows nothing of the great sea

Being humble is one of the keys to success. When we're good at something, we shouldn't be full of ourselves. We also should be open-minded to the world beyond us. There are many things we don't know because we are just a small part of the universe. It's a shame to view the world only through our limited experiences and feel arrogant about it.




Watch others' behavior and correct your own behavior

Have you ever heard that experience is the best teacher? It's true, but you don't have to wait to experience something yourself. You can learn from others' experiences. It is much faster to learn from someone's mistake. You can also avoid superiors' scolding by observing your coworkers about what you shouldn't do at work.




Fall seven times, get up eight

This proverb tells us to never give up. No matter how much we fail, we should keep trying. We shouldn't quit because every time we fail, we learn something valuable. Not giving up also means continuously improving because we know we can't succeed with what we have at that time. So, we find out what's wrong, fix what's lacking, ask for feedback, and consult with mentors. By the time we succeed, we are far better than ourselves at the start point. We only fail if we stop trying.




I even want to borrow a cat's hand

Cats are so prominent in Japanese culture and society that they showed up in ancient wisdom. This proverb is an expression to say you're very busy to the point you would accept help from a cat. Well, if the cat is Doraemon, then consider everything is done!




Plow when sunny, read when rainy

This proverb describes a leisure life. For some Japanese, it seems like an ideal life for retirement to live surrounded by nature and follow their flow. If it's raining and you can't do your job, it's okay. You can just stop and enjoy the time with other activities. This lifestyle is contrary to busy people who are stressed out over sudden interruptions in their work.

Because proverbs are words of wisdom in Japan, you can see that Japanese ways of life are illustrated in those. For example, perseverance and consistency are what they value as keys to success. These values may be familiar to you because some of them resonate with wisdom in another culture.


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Looking for career opportunities in Japan?

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