Hello, my idiomatic friend!
Carrying multiple and deep meanings, combining kanji can create powerful and intriguing compound words. Combining four allows for a myriad of thought-provoking possibilities that are often used to spice up written Japanese. A unique quirk of languages using logographs, they’re a joy to investigate and use.
Originating from Chinese, yojijukugo are idiomatic phrases that often require a sentence or two of explanation in English, but can be elegantly summed up in just four characters. The messages often carry wisdom, or a normative statement about morality. For example, we get the expression ‘killing two birds with one stone’ from 一石二鳥 (issekinichō), a Chinese idiom regularly used in Japanese. It’s a pleasure to look at, and this is part of the appeal of yojijukugo; the visual representation of the idea is to many just as important.
“[Yojijukugo] are almost impossible to translate because they condense so much meaning from history and context into such a tiny package.”
Yojijukugo are considered to be a very advanced use of Japanese and school entrance tests will often include a question or two on them to establish how well read and how worldly the student is. If you are inspired to learn some of these beautiful little expressions, feel free to head to our vocabulary page dedicated to yojijukugo and add a little spice to your spoken and written Japanese.