Japanese idioms about animals

Japanese idioms about animals

Hello everyone! When you first learn Japanese, surely you have already learned Japanese vocabulary about animals. However, Japanese is a rich and diverse language, so there are many expressions and words relating to animals. Is this post, we will introduce to you the lesson: Japanese idioms about animals.

Vocabulary about animals

動物 (doubutsu): animal.

動物園 (doubutsuen): zoo

昆虫 ( konchuu ): insect, bug /虫 (mushi): insect, bug, cricket

鳥 (tori): bird

魚 (sakana): fish

There are many Japanese idioms about animals. Let’s learn about them!

Dog – 犬 (いぬ): inu

inu chó

犬猿の仲
kenen no naka
relationship of dogs and monkeys => very bad terms, similar to like cats and dogs

Example :

あの二人は犬猿の仲だ。
Ano futari wa kenen no naka da.
Those two people have a bad relationship.

犬死(を)する
Inujini (wo) suru
Dying in vain, wasteful sacrifice of life

負け犬
makeinu
Dejected loser (dog that lost a fight)

Example :

負け犬にはなりたくない。
Makeinu ni wa naritakunai.
I don’t want to be a loser.

負け犬の遠吠え
Make inu no touboe
Grumblings of a loser.

犬も歩けば棒にあたる
Inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru.
(Literal meaning) Even if a dog runs, it will be hit.
(Figurative meaning) No matter how you escape, the bad things come. However, today it is also used with positive meaning: “Luck may come unexpectedly”.

飼い犬に手を噛まれる
Kaiinu ni te wo kamareru
To be betrayed by a trusted follower

Example :

彼にはあれだけよくしてあげたのに、これでは飼い犬に手を噛まれる様なものだ。
Kare ni wa aredake yoku shiteageta noni koredewa kainu ni te wo kamareru you na monoda.
I have done so much for him but he betrayed me.

飼い主に前足を踏まれる
Kainushi ni maeashi wo fumareru
To be betrayed by the owner.

夫婦喧嘩は犬も食わぬ
Fuufu genka wa inu mo kuwanu.
(Literal meaning) Even dogs can’t swallow the couple quarreling
(Figurative meaning) Don’t interfere in the discord of the couple.

Example :

もう喧嘩するのやめたら?「夫婦喧嘩は犬も食わぬ」って言うでしょ。
Mou kenka suru no yametara? Fuufugenka wa inu mo kuwanutte iu desho.
Stop fighting anymore, okay? They say that “Even dogs can’t swallow the couple quarreling”.

Cat – 猫 (ねこ): neko

neko mèo

猫に小判
Neko ni koban
(Literal meaning) Give cat gold coins
(Figurative meaning) Great waste

Example :

彼女にそんないいものをあげるなんて、猫に小判だ。
Kanojo ni sonna ii mono wo agerunante, neko ni koban da.
Giving her such a good thing is like giving cat gold coins.

Note: This idiom has the same meaning as 豚に真珠 (Buta ni shinju)

猫も杓子も (negative)
nekomo shakushimo
Anybody (without distinction)

Example :

最近は、猫も杓子もスマホを持っている。
Saikin wa neko mo shakushi mo sumaho wo motte iru.
Recently, everyone has a smartphone.

猫の手も借りたい
Neko no te mo karitai
(Literal meaning)  Wanting even the help of a cat
(Figurative meaning) Extremely busy and can ask for help from anyone

猫の額
Neko no hitai
(Literal meaning) Cat’s forehead
(Figurative meaning) Tiny area

猫ばば/ネコババ
nekobaba
Embezzlement, misappropriation

猫をかぶる
neko wo kaburu
To feign friendliness, to play the hypocrite

猫なで声  (Negative)
nekonadegoe
(Literal meaning) The cat’s voice when we pat it.
(Figurative meaning)  Coaxing voice, wheedling voice

借りてきた猫
karitekita neko
(Literal meaning) A borrow cat
(Figurative meaning) Being quiet and meek (in contrast to normal behaviour)

Example :

うちの息子は家では腕白なのに学校に行くと借りてきた猫の様に大人しいらしい。
Uchi no musuko wa ie dewa wanpaku nanoni gakkou ni iku to karitekita neko no you ni otonashii rashii.
My son is naughty at home but at school, he is quiet and meek.

猫かわいがりする
Nekokawaigari suru
To charm someone.

猫舌
nekojita
(Literal meaning) Cat tongue
(Figurative meaning) Inability to take hot food

猫舌だから冷めるまで食べられません。
Nekojita dakara sameru made taberaremasen.
I have a cat tongue, so I can’t eat it until it cools down.

Pig – 豚 (ぶた): buta

buta lợn

豚に真珠
Buta ni shinju
(Literal meaning) Cast pearls before swine
(Figurative meaning) Great waste

ブタ箱
butabako
Police cell, lockup

Example :

そんなことをしたらブタ箱行きだ。
Sonna koto wo shitara butabako ikita.
If you do such a thing, you will be sent to police cell.

Horse – 馬 (うま): uma

馬が合う
uma ga au
To get on well (with a person).

馬が合わない
uma ga awanai
Not to get on well with someone.

馬の骨 (Negative)
uma no hone
Person of doubtful origin.

どこの馬の骨かもわからない
dokono uma no hone kamo wakaranai
I don’t know where that person is from.

天高く馬肥ゆる秋
Tentakaku uma koyuru aki
(Literal meaning) Autumn with the sky clear and blue, and horses growing stout.
(Figurative meaning) Autumn comes with harvest time and clear weather.

馬の耳に念仏
Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu
(Literal meaning) Reading the Buddhist prayer into a horse’s ear.
(Figurative meaning) In one ear and out the other ear.

じゃじゃ馬
jajauma
Restive horse -> unmanageable person (a woman), shrew

当て馬
ateuma
Spoiler

馬車馬
bashauma
(Literal meaning) Cart-horse, work-horse

Example :

馬車馬の様に働く
Bashauma no you ni hataraku
(Figurative meaning) Work like a cart-horse.

馬子にも衣装
Mago nimo ishou
Anybody can look good with the right clothes

Cow – 牛 (うし) : ushi

 

 

牛に引かれて善光寺参り
Ushi ni hikarete zenkouji mairi
(Literal meaning) Being pulled to the Zenkoji temple by a cow.
(Figurative meaning) Being taken to a great place by the chance off following someone.

食べてすぐに寝ると牛になる
Tabete sugu ni neru to ushi ni naru
(Literal meaning) If you sleep right after you eat, you will become a cow.
(Figurative meaning) Sleeping right after eating is a bad habit and not good for digestion.

牛歩
gyuuho
Snail’s pace, slow progress.

Note: There is a strategy called 牛歩戦略 (gyuuho senryaku): The president of the opposition intentionally slows down when voting in Parliament to slow down the process or  not to approve the bill.

Monkey – 猿 (さる) : saru

猿も木から落ちる
Saru mo ki kara ochiru
(Literal meaning) Even monkeys fall from trees.
(Figurative meaning) Anyone can make a mistake.

猿まねをする (Negative)
Sarumane wo suru
To mimic, to copy

猿芝居 (Negative)
sarushibai
(Literal meaning) Monkey show.
(Figurative meaning) Bad acting, unconvincing performance.

Racoon dog – 狸  (たぬき): tanuki

タヌキ寝入り
Tanuki neiri
Feigning sleep

タヌキおやじ  (Negative)
tanuki oyaji
Cunning, sly old man

古狸  (Negative)
furudanuki
Veteran, schemer

化け狸 (Negative)
bakedanuki
A specter of Japanese raccoon dogs who disguise and deceive people

取らぬ狸の皮算用
Toranu tanuki no kawazanyou
(Literal meaning) Calculate how much money will be earned before selling the racoon dogs.
(Figurative meaning) Do not trust or depend on something until it actually happens, same meaning to don’t count the chickens before they are hatched.

Example :

「私の写真集を出してお金がもうかったら海外旅行に行くの。」
“Watashi no shashinshuu wo dashite okanega moukattara kaigai ryokou ni ikuno.”
“If I can make money by showing off my photo collection, I will travell abroad”.

「そういうのを取らぬ狸のなんとやらっていうんだよ。」
Souiu no wo Toranu tanuki no nantoyaratte iundayo.
They call it that “Calculate how much money will be earned before selling the racoon dogs”.

Fox – 狐  (きつね): kitsune

狐につままれたような顔
Kitsune ni tumamareta you na kao
Look confused, bewildered.

狐の嫁入り
Kitsune no yomeiri
(Literal meaning) Fox’s wedding.
(Figurative meaning) Rain shower while the sun shines.

キツネ色
Kitsune iro
Golden brown.

Note: You will hear it when cooking:

肉をキツネ色になるまで焼いて下さい。
Niku wo kitsune iro ni yaite kudasai.
Roast meat until it turns golden brown.

狐と狸の化かし合い
Kitsune to Tanuki no bakashiai.
Two sly characters outfoxing each other.

Note:

Racoon dog, dog, fox, monkey, rabbit, turtle are cute animals in Japanese fairy tales. In fairy tales, raccoon dogs have a bad reputation. Fox is cunning. They all deceive humans by disguising. They sometimes disguise by putting a leaf on their heads or turning leaves into money. If you have the opportunity, read the following fairy tales:

桃太郎  (Momotarou)  犬 ( inu) : dog, 猿 ( saru) : monkey, 雉 (kiji): Japanese pheasant.

浦島太郎 Urashima Taro   亀 ( kame) turtle

猿蟹合戦  Saru kani gassen   猿 (saru) monkey, 蟹 ( kani) crab

因幡の白兎  Inaba no shirousagi   兎  (usagi) rabbit

鶴の恩返し Tsuru no ongaeshi   鶴 (tsuru) crane

かちかち山 kachikachi yama   狸 (tanuki) racoon dog, 兎 ( usagi) rabbit

花さかじいさん Hanasaka jiisan 犬 ( inu) dog

舌きりすずめ shitakiri suzume     雀 ( suzume) Tree sparrow

ごんぎつね gongitsune  狐 ( kitsune) fox

手袋を買いに Tebukuro wo kaini  狐 ( kitsune) fox

Panda – パンダ (panda)

客寄せパンダ   (Negative)
Kyakuyose panda
Sstar attraction, crowd puller.

Rabbit – 兎(うさぎ) usagi

野うさぎ(nousagi): hare

二兎を追う者は一兎も得ず
Nito wo ou mono wa itto mo ezu
If you run after two rabbits, you may not catch any.

Mouse – 鼠 (ねずみ): nezumi

ネズミ算式に増える
Nezumisan shiki ni fueru
Increase as mouses.

袋のネズミ
fukuro no nezumi
Being trapped. There is no place to hide.

ネズミ捕り
nezumi tori
(Literal meaning) Mousetrap
(Figurative meaning) The police snare

Example :

今、あそこの大通りでネズミ捕りをしているから気をつけて。
Ima soko no oodoori de nezumitori wo shiteiru kara ki wo tsukete.
The police are snaring on the big road now, so be careful.

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