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Japanese Snake Proverbs

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2013 is the year of the snake according to the Japanese zodiac. The Japanese word for snake is “hebi”. The kanji character for "hebi (snake)" is also pronounced as "ja" or "da." A faucet is called "jaguchi" because of its snakelike shape.

Here are some expressions including the word snake.

  • Yabuhebi やぶ蛇 (A snake in the bush) --- To reap ill fortune from an unnecessary act. It comes from the likelihood that poking a bamboo bush (yabu) may flush a snake.
  • Hebi ni mikomareta kaeru 蛇に見込まれたかえる (A frog picked out by a snake) --- To describe somebody who is unable to move because of fear.
  • Dasoku 蛇足 (Snake's foot) --- To make an unnecessary addition.
  • Dakou 蛇行 (To go like a snake) --- To meander, to zigzag.
  • Chouda no retsu 長蛇の列 (A long line like a snake) --- To make a long line.
  • Ryutou-dabi 竜頭蛇尾 (A dragon's head, a snake's tail) --- To end in an anticlimax, to start well but fade badly. It is one of yoji-jukugo.
  • Toguro o maku とぐろを巻く (To lie in a coil) --- To loaf, to lounge. "Toguro" is a way snake coil itself.
  • Here is a folktale called, “Hebi no ashi (Snake’s Foot)”. “Dasoku” means “to make an unnecessary addition” as explained above. This story tells where the meaning of “dasoku” came from. Click this link to read the story in Japanese.

    Hebi no ashi

    Mukashi mukashi, murabitotachi ga atsumatte, otera no souji o shite imashita.
    Souji ga owaru to, obousan ga osake o ireta tsubo o motte kimashita.
    ”Gokurousama deshita. Sukoshi desu ga, osake o meshiagatte kudasai.”
    ”Arigatou.”
    Minna wa orei o itte, osake o uketorimashita.
    Tokoroga murabito wa go-nin iru noni, osake wa tsubo ni hitori bun shika haitte imasen.
    Minna de nomu niwa, totemo tarimasen.
    Suruto, hitori no otoko ga iimashita.
    ”Dewa, kou shitara dou darou.
    Minna de jimen ni, hebi no e o kaku kyousou o suru no sa.
    Ichiban hayaku kakiageta mono ga, hitori de osake o itadaku n da.”
    ”Naruhodo, sore wa omoshiroi. Yoshi, sore de kimeyou.”
    ”Dewa iku zo. Yooi , don!”
    Minna wa isseini, hebi no e o kakihajimemashita.
    Suruto hitori no otoko ga, ichiban hayaku kakiagemashita.
    ”Dekida zo! Ore ga ichiban da! Ahhahaha. Minna niwa warui ga, kono osake wa ore ga choudai suru yo.”
    Otoko wa sou itte saketsubo ni te o nobasou to shimashita ga, futo ki ga tsuite,
    ”Shimatta! Kore wa shikujitta zo. Hebi ni ashi o tsukeru koto o wasurete ita.”
    to, awatete hebi no ashi o kakihajimeta no desu.
    Suruto sore yori saki ni, hoka no otoko ga hebi o kakiagemashita.
    ”Dekita. Sake wa, ore no mono da.
    Otoko wa sou iu to, osake o oishisouni nomimashita.
    Hajime no otoko ga zannen sou ni mite iru to, sake o nonda otoko ga waratte iimashita.
    ”Baka dana, omae wa.
    Yoku kangaete miro, hebi ni ashi ga atte tamaru mon ka.
    Sonna yokeina mono o kuttsukeyou to suru kara, konna umai sake o nomisokoneru n da yo.”
    Sorekara desu, yobunna mono o tsukeru koto o “dasoku” to iu youni natta nowa.

    Vocabulary

    Murabito 村人 --- villager
    otera お寺 --- temple
    souji そうじ --- cleaning
    obousan お坊さん --- monk
    tsubo つぼ --- a jar
    meshiagaru 召し上がる --- to eat
    orei お礼 --- thanks
    tokoroga ところが --- but
    jimen 地面 --- ground
    e 絵 --- picture
    kyousou 競争 --- competition
    Naruhodo なるほど。 --- I see.
    omoshiroi おもしろい --- interesting
    isseini いっせいに --- all at once
    ichiban 一番 --- the first
    Shimatta しまった! --- Oops!
    shikujiru しくじる --- to fail
    wasureru 忘れる --- to forget
    awatete あわてて --- in a hurry
    yokeina 余計な --- superfluous
    yobunna 余分な --- superfluous

    Grammar

    “Taberu”, “meshiagaru” and “itadaku” all mean, “to eat”. “Meshiagaru” is a respectful form and “itadaku” is a humble form. Respectful forms are used when addressing, or talking about someone whose social status is relatively higher than yours. On the other hand, humble forms are used in reference to one’s own action and state by humbling the speaker’s action.

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