“Do the right thing”, “We’re all in the same boat”, “quarantine”, etc. – as you know, there are a number of English phrases that have been repeatedly used to describe the COVID-19 crisis; and not surprisingly, this is the case in Japanese, too. This post explains those “COVID-19 phrases” that we heard a zillion times in 2020, and also introduces some interesting Japanese idioms and sayings that may help us stay positive and get through this unprecedented circumstances.
Table of Contents
コロナ禍 (ころな か)
コロナ禍 means “corona(virus) crisis”, where “コロナ” is short for コロナウイルス (coronavirus) and “禍 (か)” means “a disaster”. Because this kanji had been rarely used before the pandemic, many Japanese people mistakenly write the kanji “禍” as “鍋” (なべ, a pot) or “渦 (うず, whirlpool)” (these mistakes obviously look so goofy, so don’t confuse them!).
Because of the influence of the coronavirus crisis, the number of tourists has decreased.
前代未聞 (ぜんだい みもん)/未曾有 (みぞう)
前代未聞 is probably one of the most frequently used 四字熟語 (four kanji phrases) during the COVID-19 crisis, which means “unprecedented”, i.e. “something that nobody has ever heard or experienced (usually used for a bad thing)”. It consists of two parts: 前代 meaning “previous era” and 未聞 meaning “have not heard”. There is also a very similar and advanced word, “未曾有 (みぞう)’, which also means “very rare/unprecedented/have never occurred”.
The year 2020 was an unprecedented year.
閑古鳥が鳴く (かんこどり が なく)
閑古鳥が鳴く literarily means ‘a cuckoo sings’. It is figuratively used when there is nobody in a place that is supposed to be lively, such as a restaurant, hotel, and theme park; the empty shops/places are likened to a quiet forest where the desolate sound of a cuckoo resonates.
Due to the lockdown, “a cuckoo is singing” throughout the town (= the town is deserted).
自粛 is arguably one of the most frequently used Japanese words during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means “self-restraint” or “to refrain from doing something at one’s own will”. This word has been used by the Japanese government to “request” the citizens stay home and refrain from going outside.
There is also a new slang word called “自粛警察”, literally meaning “self-restraint police”. Check its definition at the previous post: 自粛警察 (jishuku keisatsu): Japan’s “Self-Restraint Police” Explained.
I’ve got tired of being self-restraint.
要請 means “request/ask/demand”. This word has been used by both the local and national governments when they ask bars and restaurants to shorten their opening hours. The governments also have been begging people to do “自粛” (“self-restraint”), i.e. “自粛要請” (“request for self-restraint”), but some people are not really convinced, since the act of asking “self-restraint” is self-contradictory very much.
The government has made a request that restaurants shorten their opening hours.
The next two words are not commonly used to describe the crisis, but still very relatable.
泣きっ面に蜂 (なきっつら に はち)
泣き面に蜂 literally means “bees/wasps (come) to a crying face”, and figuratively means “a situation where one experiences bad things one after another”. The closest English expression would be “When it rains, it pouts”.
I couldn’t study abroad because of the COVID-19 crisis, and recently I’ve also got dumped by my girlfriend. This is exactly “bees/wasps come to my crying face”.
三日坊主 literally means ‘three-day monk’, and figuratively means to quit your “habit” that you established a couple of days ago. For instance, if you started learning a new language during the COVID-19 lockdown and quit already, you’re absolutely a “three-day monk”. As you might guess, this word originally illustrates a person who has decided to become a monk but given in to the ascetic practices within three days.
Although I started learning Japanese during the lockdown, I was just a “three-day monk” (= I quit very fast).
Lastly, I conclude this post with several positive idioms and sayings that help us to stay optimistic in this topsy-turvy world!
止まない雨はない（やまない あめ は ない）
止まない雨はない literally means “There is no rain that never stops.” and indicates that every negative situation, no matter how hard it is, will end eventually. There is also another variant of this phrase, “明けない夜はない”, meaning “There is no night that never ends/that never sees the day”.
Even now is a very hard time, “there is no rain that never stops”, so let’s stay positive and focus on what we can do now.
冬来たりなば春遠からじ （ふゆ きたり なば はる とおからじ）
冬来たりなば春遠からじ is an old-Japanese translation of the line “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” from the well-known poem ” Ode to the West Wind” by P.B.Shelly. Clearly, it means that when you’re in winter (i.e. a difficult situation), spring (i.e. a bright future) is just around the corner.
Let’s believe in the saying “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” and stay optimistic.
ピンチはチャンス (ぴんち は ちゃんす)
ピンチはチャンス literally means “A plight is a chance” and indicates that, when you’re in a plight, there is also a big chance that comes your way. In Japanese, the word “ピンチ (pinch)” means “plight/a difficult situation”, which originated from the English phrase “in a pinch”. There is also a similar saying “ピンチの後にチャンスあり” (“There will be a chance after a plight/predicament”), which is often referred to in baseball.
Let’s think that “a plight is a chance”, and start something new!
継続は力なり (けいぞく は ちから なり)
継続は力なり literally means “Continuation is power” and highlights the importance of doing something continuously (without giving it up).
I practised every day with the “continuation is power” mindset.
石の上にも３年 (いし の うえ にも さんねん)
It literally means “(Sit) on a stone for three years”, and figuratively means “Your perseverance/effort will pay off in the long run”. This idiom alludes to the fact that even a “stone-cold” stone will become warm after you sit on it for three years.
As there is a saying “On a stone for three years”, I think I try to keep studying Japanese for a while.
七転び八起き (ななころび やおき)
七転び八起き literally means “Fall down seven times and get up eight times” and figuratively describes an unflinching, never-give-up attitude.
Let’s get through this crisis with the “Fall down seven times and get up eight times” mindset!
笑う門には福来る (わらう かど には ふく きたる)
笑う門には福来る means “Good luck visits a home filled with smiles and laughter.” Sometimes, it is translated as “Fortune comes in by a merry gate”, but it is not very accurate because the word “門”, which usually means”gate” indeed, actually conveys the uncommon meaning “home/family” in this expression.
Since there is a saying “Good luck comes to a home filled with smiles and laughter.”, let’s stay positive and enjoy our life!