Japanese Proverb: A barber always finishes, not quitting midway

By Greg Beck

Today’s Topic: 諺 / ことわざ / Proverb

Kanji: 理髪屋は絶対に済ますまでは途中で止めない。

Kana: りはつやはぜったいにすますまではとちゅうでやめない。

This expression may not be familiar to many of your Japanese co-workers, but it means “A barber always finishes, not quitting midway.” I may have only chosen this phrase because my sister is a barber. But it’s true! As a barber, giving up before seeing something through is unforgivable, and not just once, but every time! “Some things in life have to be seen through” is the moral, I guess.

理髪屋 is an old way of saying “Barbershop” but back then, that literally referred to the guy cutting hair. In fact, most professions in Japan were that way – family businesses – so linguistically there was no necessity to distinguish between the person and the job, which is why a lot of times Japanese will throw さん at the end of a shop like パン屋さん for “bakery”. For people just starting to study 漢字 (kanji), notice that the verb is やめない in this case, even though it could be read as とどめない or とめない. They all mean “stop”, but やめる is like quitting or giving up, とどめる is to stop in place like sewing a button in place or staying the night, and とめる is the act of stopping something, like a faucet or your car. *PHEW* Aren’t you glad you chose Japanese?

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