Jojijukugo top

With enough hard work, anyone can learn to speak and read Japanese. But you know you’ve truly made it as a Nihongo master only when you can effortlessly break out a few yojijukugo, or four-kanji idioms. Join us after the jump for 10 of our favourites!

A quick word of warning for beginner-level students of Japanese: kanji characters almost all have multiple possible readings, so although we’ve provided a breakdown of the individual characters that appear each of these four-kanji phrases, it’s important to note that their pronunciations may be completely different when used in other contexts. It’s important to know the meanings of the individual characters, but remember that these should be used as a set. 


There are hundreds of yojijukugo 四字熟語 (lit. “four-character idiom”) out there in the wild, some used on an almost daily basis, others the creations of would-be wordsmiths and restaurant owners who thought that giving a dish a four-character name would make it sound cool. You might not be able to drop these idiomatic phrases into your conversations as often as you may soon find yourself wishing, but whenever you do, you can be sure that the Japanese people around you will pay attention.


Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 12.09.21Most of our readers will be familiar with issekinichou in its English form since the phrase literally translates as “one stone two birds”. Unlike the English idiom “to kill two birds with one stone”, however, the Japanese version lacks a verb, thus leaving the murdering of said winged creatures entirely up to the speaker’s discretion.

Kanji breakdown: i 一 (one), seki 石 (stone/rock), ni 二 (two), chou 鳥 (bird)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 11.50.14Want to sound like a sagely wizard or a character out of Detective Conan? Break out the phrase gishinanki in a discussion about trust and betrayal. The direct translation of this Japanese idiom is “once you suspect something, all will appear suspicious”, but we think “suspicion breeds devils” is rather badass.

Kanji breakdown: gishin 疑心 (doubt/suspicion), an 暗 (darkness), ki 鬼 (demon)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 12.13.58Proof that yojijukugo don’t have to be made up entirely of kanji, the Japanese idiom for “love is blind” includes the hiragana character は (ha, but pronounced ‘wa’). No, it doesn’t look like the majority of yojijukugo, but we love it anyway…

Kanji breakdown: koi 恋 (love), ha は (particle denoting subject), mou  (blindness), moku 目 (eye/look)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 11.55.30Featuring an rather unusual reading of the character ki 期, this is one to use when you’re inviting someone back to your apartment after a few drinks.* Don’t miss this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” !

*Warning: will end in failure and embarrassment.

Kanji breakdown: ichi 一 (one), go 期 (period/time), ichi 一 (one), e 会 (meeting)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 11.56.50Isn’t it wonderful when some scumbag of a character in a film or TV show finally gets their just desserts? “Karma’s a bitch” might be doing this powerful yet elegant idiomatic phrase something of a disservice, but we think it works better than the more formal translation: “reward for one’s past [bad] behaviour”.

Kanji breakdown: in 因 (cause/factor), ga 果 (result/fruit), ouhou 応保 (retribution)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 12.00.15Ichirentakushou is a term sometimes heard in Buddhist teachings and means “to be born of the same lotus flower”, that is to say, we’re all the same deep down. It can, however, also be used to assure someone that you’re very much “in the same boat” as they are when something unpleasant is happening.

Kanji breakdown: ichi 一 (one), ren 蓮 (Sacred Lotus), taku 托 (entrust with) shou 生 (life)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 11.58.08Keeping the yin-yang balance now, it’s jakuniku kyoushoku, or “weak meat strong food”. Confused? Well then you’d better study up before someone better comes along, because this idiom is Japan’s own version of the phrase “survival of the fittest” or “dog eat dog”, wherein the weaker becomes the stronger’s dinner.

Kanji breakdown: jaku 弱 (weak), niku 肉 (meat), kyou 強 (strong). shoku 食 (food/meal)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 12.17.51Japan began the process of switching to the metric system all the way back in 1924, but long before that the ri—which was borrowed from China—was used to measure distance. One ri is equal to roughly 3.9 kilometres or 2.4 miles, which was quite a distance for news to travel back in the days before people had the internet or telephones in their homes. Even so, when it comes to bad news, it can travel even a thousand ri very fast.

Kanji breakdown: aku 悪 (bad/evil), ji 事 (thing/matter), sen 千 (thousand), ri 里 (unit of measurement)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 12.11.27The third and fourth kanji characters here may look rather imposing for beginner-level Japanese learners, but the first two, ichi (one) and moku (eye), should be familiar. In fact, the meaning of those first two characters should be immediately clear to anyone who has spent even a couple of weeks studying kanji, if you follow my meaning?

Kanji breakdownichi 一 (one). moku 目 (eye/look), ryouzen 瞭然 (obvious)



Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 12.15.55Our final yojijukugo today is one that’s very close to our hearts, since, as regular readers of our site will know, we at RocketNews24 love our food very much. Ishokudougen can be translated as “medicine and diet are of equal importance”, but we prefer to think that plenty of good food will remove the necessity for medicine entirely, so we’re repackaging this one as “good food is in itself medicine”.

Kanji breakdowni 医 (medicine). shoku 食 (food/meal), dougen 同源 (the same origin)

Be sure to let us know your own favourite four-character idioms in the comments section below. We’re sure there are plenty of Japanese learners out there who’d love to hear some more!