Yoji-Jukugo: Four Kanji Idioms

Like all languages, Japanese is rich with idioms.  Previous blog entries focused on animal expressions, including those involving horses in honour of the year of the horse.  A class of interesting idioms is yoji-jukugo (四字熟語):  Four kanji compounds conveying wisdom.

Keiten aijin:  Revere heaven, love people.  The motto of Saigo Takamori, a famous and influential samurai.

Keiten aijin: Revere heaven, love people. The motto of Saigo Takamori, a famous and influential samurai.

Yoji-jukugo find their origins in China, and some refer to an old story or parable.  If a listener doesn’t know the story, the expression may not make a lot of sense.  That said, the sometimes obscure of a few expressions is no reason not to study them.  Indeed, it’s a challenge and the pay-off is worth it – especially if you want to impress with your Japanese skills.  Here is a list of useful yoji-jukugo:

  • 一石二鳥 (isseki nichou):  Kill two birds with one stone.
  • 一生懸命 (isshou kenmei):  To the utmost / with all one’s strength/energy.
  • 十人十色 (juunin touiro):  To each his own.
  • 一日千秋 (ichijitsu senaki):  To look forward to something eagerly.
  • 危機一髪 (kiki ippatsu):  By the skin of one’s teeth.
  • 切磋琢磨 (sessa takuma):  To cultivate one’s mind by studying intensely/hard.
  • 日進月歩 (nisshin geppou):  steady progress

For more yoji-jukugo, you can have a look at this Tofugu page (there’s even a link to a free, downloadable deck to study from), a series of About.com pages, this JMode.com page, or the mother of all  – a list of 3,300 expressions.

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