Beautiful Japanese Sayings for Today’s COVID World

Discover a new perspective about these difficult times and learn more about ourselves through Japanese sayings and wisdom.

May 31, 2020

It’s not enough to say how different and rapidly the world has changed with COVID-19. The mental whiplash has been difficult for everyone. There were a number of new changes, and so many high highs and low lows we all went through, and are still going through. Sometimes it is hard to compartmentalize and to process these new roads of thought, but perhaps understanding these emotions from a different culture can be a good change of pace, and maybe help see things in a new light. In Japanese, there are hundreds of old sayings and idioms. Sometimes because they are older, they don’t seem applicable to today’s world. But then once in a while, we realize that there is new beauty in these words, and that we can find comfort, and perhaps even humor in them.

We weren’t expecting it

足元から鳥が立つ Ashimoto kara tori ga tatsu

Direct translation: From underfoot, a bird stands upright.

It describes the feeling of the the rug being pulled from under you, or when something unexpected happens to you or someone you know. In this case, it happened to all of us.

We felt defeated

青菜に塩 Aona ni shio

Direct translation: Salt on green leaves.

And in the beginning many people were low, and we couldn’t process how we felt. It was all so strange, and our emotions would get the best of us. More than anything, it was hard to understand what we were actually feeling. But maybe it felt like Salt on green leaves. You know what happens when you put salt on green vegetables? If you cook or throw together a bowl of salad from time to time, you know that if you sprinkle a bit of salt on the leafy greens, they shrink and wilt. That was definitely how many people felt and still feel.

Tree Frog hiding in the Leaves

We had to live with a small group of people under the same roof

同じ釜の飯を食う Onaji kama no meshi o kuu

Direct Translation: Eating rice from the same pot.

Many of us were isolated with friends, family, or roommates. It was the same people 24/7. In some sense we found comfort in that, but being with the same people all the time isn’t an easy feat. Everything had to be shared, and we were pushed to further develop those relationships.

Sometimes it was hard to see how different people coped and grieved differently

十人十色 Juunin Toiro

Direct translation: Ten people ten colors.

Different strokes for different folks. However you call it, there are so many different people in the world, with their own thoughts, their own individual emotions, and of course, their own way of coping with the new situation in the world. So with this we needed to realize that just because one person was reacting in a way that was different from how we were, that was still ok and that it didn’t mean they were wrong or we were more right.

Koi Fish in the Monet’s Pond, Gifu Prefecture

We all suddenly got creative

起死回生 Kishi kaisei

Direct translation: To wake from death and return to life.

Somehow, maybe it was because of all the free time we had, maybe it was because our brains knew that we had to do something, but somehow we started being creative. It felt as if we returned to life, which is what the phrase means: To come out of a desperate situation and make a great return in one single burst. (Didn’t Tony Stark do that in that one Avenger movie?) Some of us starting making our own cheese, some picked up cosplay, and others started doing all those crafts that we were putting off for ages. Somehow, it felt great to explore this new side, and to make the most out of the situation. (As long as we didn’t review our past Amazon purchases)

Some days we did too much

虻蜂取らず Abu hachi torazu

Direct translation: You can’t catch a horsefly and a bee at the same time.

You can’t do two things at once. Some of those days we felt like we were doing so many things, and nothing at all, and we didn’t know how to handle it and we overwhelmed ourselves.

Some days all we did was eat and watch Netflix

無芸大食 Mugeitaishoku

Direct translation: Lacking the talent to do anything but eat.

Yep, last Tuesday all we did was eat and gorge ourselves with sugary cereals and ice-cream, and maybe three pizzas as well. In some way, that is what we needed in the moment. It was part of the process of wading through these new waters.

We got up again, and moved forward

七転び八起き Nana korobi ya oki

Direct translation: Fall 7 times stand up 8.

We realized that this was part of the grieving process, and even though we would fall down one day, as long as we gave ourselves the time to breathe, we would stand up again the next day. And then maybe fall down again after that. But that’s ok too.

We started to appreciate nature, and the things around us

花鳥風月 Kachou Fuugetsu

Direct translation: Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon.

We walked slower, moved slower, and observed more. We saw parts about the world and nature, and knew that everything that surrounds us had lived on for thousands of years. We experienced the beauty of nature, and in doing so learned more about ourselves.

Bird in the Cherry Blossom Tree

In that, we realized that no one was perfect, and we didn’t have to put so much pressure on ourselves

猿も木から落ちる Saru mo ki kara ochiru

Direct translation: Even monkeys fall from trees.

Even people who are experts in what they do aren’t perfect 100% percent of the time. Gymnasts trip up, artists spill paint, monkeys fall from trees, and that’s the part that makes us human. It’s ok if you’re not at your tip-top game today. You got this.

Everything will take time

雨垂れ石を穿つ Amadare Ishi wo ugatsu

Direct Translation: Even raindrops wear away stones.

We need to know that even though sometimes what we do isn’t making progress, we need to keep in mind that even raindrops wear away stones. The trick is to be patient, and use those rainy days for good.

We realized that as long as we grow and become better, that tomorrow would be better

後は野となれ山となれ Ato wa no to nare yama to nare

Direct translation: After everything, become a field, become a mountain.

You don’t have to worry about what will happen; the future will take care of itself. We can overwhelm ourselves with the “What Ifs” and worrying about tomorrow. But we can choose to be bigger than that. We all can become mountains.

One day, things will be better

冬は必ず春となる Fuyuu wa kanarazu haru to naru

Direct translation: Winter always turns to Spring.

No matter what difficulty we are going through, one day we will see the hints of spring popping up through the ground, and we will feel warmer days come. We will all get through this, and one day, even though it may not feel like it right now, Spring is just around the corner.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and always spread love.

Mount Fuji and Cherry Blossom Trees
Spring will come.
Reylia Slaby

Reylia Slaby was born and raised in Kansai and is currently based in Nara, Japan. She grew up traveling the country, spending time in a variety of prefectures growing up. She works as a Fine Art and Fashion photographer and uses different outlets of creativity to expand on her visual work. She enjoys gardening, reading, and writing poetry, as well as playing with her 15-year-old cat.

More articles by Reylia Slaby

Related Articles


avatar for Christian DakinChristian Dakin

Christian Dakin is an editor, designer, and video game director currently based out of Tokyo, Japan. Origin...

avatar for Yasu MatsunoYasu Matsuno

Founder of Japan Insider. Japanese-born entrepreneur. Spent his life around the globe, including To...

avatar for Kevin MurasakiKevin Murasaki

Kevin Murasaki grew up moving back and forth between Chicago and Yokohama, Japan. Known as a "hafu", Kevi...

avatar for Mark KennedyMark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy is a native of Chicago who has spent more than 20 years living, studying, and working in Jap...