Japanese Proverb: Pigeons fly free through the palace

By Greg Beck

Today’s Topic: 諺 / ことわざ / Proverb

Kanji: 鳩は自由に皇居に舞い込む。

Kana: はとはじゆうにこうきょにまいこむ。

This expression means “Pigeons fly free through the palace.” I like how visual and straightforward this is, but of course it begs the question “Why does that mean anything?” In this saying, the pigeon is set in contrast to people, who of course are not free to roam about imperial palaces. Why should some dumb bird get to enter such hallowed grounds while people cannot? Simple. The rules don’t apply. In other words, it does no good to be overly officious and pout over “unfair” things, because in nature rules are relative, and the emperor is just another dude.

In terms of Japanese language, 舞い込む is a great verb that “fly free through” doesn’t do enough justice. It can also be translated as “breeze in”, “drop in”, or “happen to”. I chose “fly free” because the ことわざ says 自由に, or freely, but 舞い means dance and 込む means “to go into”, so that’s another very cool descriptive bit of Japanese for you.

Photo by Aramand Agasi / Published under Flickr Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0