Japanese Expressions You Have Never Heard Before

by adragast

Want to learn more about nice/strange/original Japanese expressions? Here is a selection of them.

Many websites will tell you how to say 'hello' or 'I love you' in Japanese but how about original expressions that are typically Japanese and don't have their equivalent in English? Here is a selection of original Japanese Expressions you have probably never heard before.

Flowers in Both Hands

flower in both hands

Let us start with a poetic expression. What can "having a flower in both hands" mean? Being a flower fan and holding a flower in each hand? Being lucky? Not being meaningful?

Actually, this expression is simply used when a man is between two women. Isn't this a beautiful metaphor? There is no equivalent for a woman between two men and if you think about it, it is not so easy to come up with good suggestions. 

This expression is written on the left and is pronounced "ryou te ni hana", "ryou te" meaning "both hands" and "hana" meaning "flower(s)" (no plural in Japanese).

A Cat's Tongue


Another one which could be hard to guess. A cat's tongue?! Does it mean someone who likes milk? Someone who is clean (cats like to lick their coats to make them clean)? Someone who tells lies (no relation to cats, but as a wild guess...)?

No, not at all. This expression is much more pragmatic as it is simply intended for someone who does not like to eat dishes that are really warm. Maybe you noticed it but some like their soup very hot, almost still boiling, others prefer a more lukewarm temperature. Well, according to this Japanese expression, cats belong to the second group.

And just for the record, "Cats' tongues" is the name of biscuits in English.

Recommended reading to avoid cliches about Japan

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The Other Stomach?

betsu bara

This expression is something children around the world would be happy to use. 

So, imagine you are having a meal. Everything tastes good and you get full, you cannot eat anymore. Too bad, the dessert arrives and seems absolutely delicious. What to do? Use your other stomach! 

"There is always room for dessert" would be the closest expression in English. In Japanese, the "other stomach" ("betsu bara") is a fictional second stomach people would have and that could be used for desserts when the main stomach gets full.

Of course, on a medical point of view (or for your teeth health), this expression is not really good. 

Many Lives!

These expressions, and many more not mentioned here, are what makes it so enjoyable to learn Japanese and foreign languages in general. Difficult, but so full of nice discoveries... Let us conclude with this Czech proverb: "Those who know many languages live as many lives as the languages they know."

Updated: 03/25/2013, adragast
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adragast on 02/13/2014

@pkmcr and @cmoneyspinner: Thanks!

cmoneyspinner on 02/12/2014

Finishing off an article about the Japanese language with a Czech proverb? Genius!! :)

pkmcr on 05/23/2013

Great to see you creating content here and look forward to more from you

adragast on 05/12/2013

Thank you all for your comments!

@Dustytoes: it is never too late so start learning! You will probably not become bilingual but at least you will discover something new!

@Sam: thanks that's a nice one too.

@Sheri_Oz: I agree! This is why I wrote this article

@GermanUtopia: Nice one, I don't think we have anything similar in French for example

GermanUtopia on 05/11/2013

When I read about the cat's tongue, I had to think of a German proverb which says: "Nothing will be eaten so hot than it is cooked." Well, it is meant more metaphorical than practical, but for me, the practical interpretation is also true.

GermanUtopia on 05/11/2013

Interesting japanese expressions! Japanese seems to be a very metaphorical and imaginative language, when I see this examples. So I think I have definitely a cat's tongue. ;-) But that's OK, because I prefer to take my time to enjoy the meal.

Mira on 05/07/2013

Great page! Love your idea of presenting some Japanese expressions. I'm not surprised this page is popular :)

WeaselPuppy on 05/04/2013

Interesting - I have relatives who are Chinese and Japanese, and it's always fun seeing the differences in culture. Some things are universal, and some things are just a distilled essence of that culture.

Sheri_Oz on 03/25/2013

Learning expressions like these is a great way to be introduced to another culture.

Sam on 07/31/2012

Another saying for your collection, great article btw, 'Knowledge is the things you know multiplied by the languages you speak' ;-) SY

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