What the Japanese really mean- Idioms

Japanese- abura o uru (油を売る)
Literal meaning- to sell oil
Real meaning- To skive off, slack off

Japanese- ago ga hazureru (顎が外れる)
Literal meaning- Jaw gets dislocated
Real meaning- Piss yourself laughing

Japanese- ai no kesshou (愛の結晶)
Literal meaning- love’s crystallization
Real meaning- children

Japanese- aki no sora (秋の空)
Literal meaning- autumn sky
Real meaning- fickle (in love)

Japanese- Amakudari (天下り)
Literal meaning- Come down from heaven
Real meaning- A retiring civil servant who instantly lands a cushy job in a private company in the same sector

Japanese- amatou (甘党)
Literal meaning- (being part of the) Sweet Party
Real meaning- having a sweet tooth

Japanese- anrakushi (安楽死)
Literal meaning- comfort death
Real meaning- euthanasia

Japanese- aokusai (青臭い)
Literal meaning- Stick of green
Real meaning- inexperienced

Japanese- aoikitoiki (青息吐息)
Literal meaning- blue breath sigh
Real meaning- To suffer

Japanese- asagohanmae (朝御飯前)
Literal meaning- before breakfast
Real meaning- A piece of cake

Japanese- ashi o arau (足を洗う)
Literal meaning- Wash your legs
Real meaning- Wash your hands (of something)

Japanese- ashi o ubawareru (足を奪われる)
Literal meaning- have your legs stolen
Real meaning- To be deprived of transport (because the trains have stopped etc)

Japanese- ashidai (足代)
Literal meaning- leg price
Real meaning- transportation costs

Japanese- awa o kuu (泡を食う
Literal meaning- eat bubbles
Real meaning- to be taken aback

Japanese- mikkabouzu (三日坊主)
Literal meaning- Three day monk
Real meaning- A quitter

Japanese- chi ga kayotta (血が通った)
Literal meaning- blood flows
Real meaning- warm, humane, thoughtful

Japanese- chi ga sawagu (血が騒ぐ)
Literal meaning- Your blood gets noisy
Real meaning- to get excited


  1. Mike said,

    July 15, 2008 at 12:48 am

    Actually, as far as 天下り goes, that’s the term used in English for the same concept (Since it is something that really only happens in Japan that way. It’s almost the rule, actually, and not looked down upon so much as expected).

  2. alexcase said,

    July 15, 2008 at 8:37 am

    You’re right, although I hadn’t heard of it before I came to Japan, you do see it in English news papers sometimes, along with keiretsu for big interelated groups of companies and dango for rigged bids.

    I also think you’re right about it not having such a negative connotation, although I’m not sure you could find anyone who actually thought it was a good thing

  3. Robert Murray said,

    July 13, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Is it true that the Japanese euphemism or ‘prostitute’ is ‘public girlfriend’? (And can I have more of these wonderfully poetic sayings?)

  4. alexcase said,

    July 23, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Never heard that, do you mean “enjou kosai” (subsidized dating)?

  5. crella said,

    August 1, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Ha,ha. At my husband’s company there is a girl who talks her way around the office daily dispensing the latest gossip and digging for more. They call her ‘abura-uri shojo’ a play on ‘machi-uri shojo’ (The Little Match Girl).

    ‘ashi wo arau’ also means to leave a gang like the yakuza.

  6. Herja Luntiainen said,

    May 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Actually, 青臭い (aokusai) consists of two words: BLUE and SMELL. Not GREEN and STICK.

    It’s a bit problematic of course, because the japanese use the word 青 (ao or aoi) a lot for things that certainly aren’t blue, like vegetables and green traffic lights (no matter what the color – some of them are blue though, I am told, but I have even seen this mentioned in Japanese TV – a kid said: “Midori miemasu!”, when the teacher told him that it’s blue (aoi))

    Sky can never be ‘midori’, but SOME green things are referred to as ‘aoi’. Also the sky is ‘aoi’ when it’s not cloudy, so calling that color definitely ‘green’ would be also problematic.

    So it’s understandable, that you were confused about the color ‘aoi’, but I don’t know why you claim that ‘kusai’ would be ‘stick’ – where did you get that from? I know that grass or weed can be called ‘kusa’, but a stick?

    Btw, some of those idioms are really weird – like eating bubbles! When does a human being ever eat bubbles? It’s very counter-intuitive, hard to know where that came from. I was hoping there’d be more explanations for the idioms, but instead, there are just translations (and sometimes you have translated an idiom into another (an english one), which isn’t probably very clarifying..)

    Still, a fun list. I’d like to add .. “to have narrow shoulders”..
    (肩身が狭い) (katami ga semai)

    That would mean something like ‘to be uncomfrotable and embarrassed’ or ashamed.

    I wonder where that bubble-eating originated from .. your translations could use some examples. ‘To be taken aback’ doesn’t really cover the whole meaning of it. Some other sources state that it means ‘To get flustered’, or ‘to get in a panic’.

    Examples include “Because I slept in, I ate bubbles running to the train station” and “I am in a panic, because my zipper is open” ..

    And last, I’d like to point out, that another idiom in this list does use the word “aoi”, but this time you did translate it correctly into ‘blue’. Good work, there! Japanese is a confusing language, and the way the japanese USE it adds to the confusion tremendously.

  7. alexcase said,

    May 20, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Obviously that should be stink rather than stick, will change it when I get time. I’m not confused about the word aoi, though, as it would be ridiculous to, for example, translate from Japanese to “the traffic light is blue” when it is nothing of the sort.

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