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.
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.