Japanese proverbs: Do Japanese people like the number 3?


Just as in other languages, there are many proverbs in the Japanese language. Proverbs represent the culture and customs of each region and country. Therefore, to understand Japanese proverbs is to understand more about Japanese culture and its people. I am sure it will be a fascinating learning experience for all of you who are learning Japanese. In this article, I would like to introduce some Japanese proverbs related to the number "3." This is because there are many proverbs in Japan that use this particular number.

( いし ) ( うえ ) にも三年( さんねん ) (Ishi-no ue-nimo san-nen)

The proverb "( いし ) ( うえ ) にも三年( さんねん ) (three years on a stone)" teaches the importance of hard work and patience. The fact that even an ice-cold stone will warm up after sitting on it for three years shows that if you are patient and persistent enough, you will always succeed. For example, when learning a new skill or language, this suggests that even if your progress is slow at first, the results will show up if you take the time and continue working on it. In Japan, there is a belief that it is best to stay at the same workplace for at least three years for newly graduates. This belief may have something to do with this proverb.

【Example】( いし ) ( うえ ) にも三年( さんねん ) というから、もう( すこ ) ( いま ) 仕事( しごと ) ( つづ ) けてみたら?
【Meaning】There’s that saying "Three years on a stone," so why don't you continue with your current job for a little while longer?

三度目( さんどめ ) 正直( しょうじき ) (Sandome-no shōjiki)

"三度目( さんどめ ) 正直( しょうじき ) (third time's the charm)," means that what did not work the first or second try, may work on the third try. It is used when a person fails twice in a game or test and tries the third time, or when they succeeds on the third try. This proverb conveys the importance of being persistent and not fearing failure.

【Example】三度目( さんどめ ) 正直( しょうじき ) で、N1に合格( ごうかく ) できた。
【Meaning】On my third try, I was finally able to pass N1.

二度( にど ) あることは三度( さんど ) ある (Nido arukoto-wa sando aru)

This proverb means that what has happened twice will happen again. This may sound contradictory to the "third time’s the charm" which I mentioned earlier, but "third time’s the charm" is often used in a positive sense such as an encouragement "I am sure that you will be able to do it on the next try!" while the later is often used as a warning to mean "you better be careful."

【Example】また( わす ) ( もの ) してしまった。二度( にど ) あることは三度( さんど ) あるというから、( ) をつけよう。
【Meaning】I forgot something again. They say what happens twice happens again, so I better be careful.

早起( はやお ) きは三文( さんもん ) ( とく ) (Hayaoki-wa sanmon-no toku)

This is a proverb that explains the value of getting up early in the morning, similar to the English proverb "early bird gets the worm." It is believed that going to bed early and getting up early leads to a healthier lifestyle, and that by making good use of your time in the morning, you can lead a more efficient life. "三文( さんもん ) (San mon)" is the equivalent of three Ichi-Mon coins, which was the currency used during the Edo period. It amounts to a small amount of money in today’s value. Even if it only amounts to a few Mon, this proverb says that it is worth waking up early in the morning. What do you think waking up early is worth?

【Example】今日( きょう ) 6時( ろくじ ) ( ) きて、午前中( ごぜんちゅう ) にやるべきことを( ) わらせた。早起( はやお ) きは三文( さんもん ) ( とく ) だ。
【Meaning】I woke up at 6AM, and finished what I needed to do in the morning. Early bird gets the worm.

( ほとけ ) ( かお ) 三度( さんど ) (Hotoke-no kao-mo sando)

This phrase implies that even the gentlest person will become angry if you do something unreasonable over and over again. The origin of this saying is that even the merciful Buddha would be angered if his face was continuously stroked three times. Every person has a limit to their patience. Even if someone is being kind and gentle, you should not get carried away or take advantage of it.

【Example】また約束( やくそく ) ( やぶ ) ったな!( ほとけ ) ( かお ) 三度( さんど ) までだ。
【Meaning】You broke your promise again! You can't keep doing this.

( さん ) ( にん ) ( ) れば文珠( もんじゅ ) 知恵( ちえ ) (Sannin yoreba monju-no chie)

This phrase means that even those who are not particularly clever can come up with great ideas if they get together and consult with each other. "文殊( もんじゅ ) (Monju)" refers to the Bodhisattva of wisdom. Certainly, better solutions and ideas will emerge when people with different perspectives and experiences cooperate with each other, rather than when one person tries to work on it all alone.

【Example】三人寄( さんにんよ ) れば文殊( もんじゅ ) 知恵( ちえ ) っていうから、みんなで( はな ) ( ) ってみよう。
【Meaning】They say two heads are better than one, so let's discuss this together.

( ) ( ) 魂百( たましいひゃく ) まで (Mitsugo-no tamashii hyaku-made)

This phrase means that the personality of a child does not change as they grow older. "( ) ( ) (Mitsugo)" refers to children who are three years old in the traditional counting year, and "百 (Hyaku)" refers to 100 years old, but it is not strictly this age; rather, it can be thought of as a figurative reference to one’s childhood and aging. It means that an individual's education and environment during their childhood influences them throughout their whole life.

【Example】( ひさ ) しぶりに幼馴染( おさななじみ ) にあったが、( まった ) ( ) わってなかった。( ) ( ) 魂百( たましいひゃく ) までだ。
【Meaning】I met my childhood friend for the first time in awhile, but they hadn’t changed a bit. A leopard cannot change its spots.


It seems that Japanese like the number "3." One of the reasons is that "3" has long been considered a lucky number in Japan, as the number "3" can also be read as "Mitsu," which has the same pronunciations as other Kanji characters with a positive image, such as "( ) つ (become full)," "( ) つ (to fulfill)," and "( ひかり ) (light)." (There are various theories.)

hope that through these proverbs, you will be able to enjoy and learn about the culture and language even more deeply. In English, the "3" in "三人寄( さんにんよ ) れば文殊( もんじゅ ) 知恵( ちえ ) " becomes "2" as seen in "two heads are better than one." It might be interesting to compare Japanese proverbs with ones from your own language.