Japanese Proverb: Don’t let jealousy get the best of you.


by Greg Beck

Today’s Topic: 諺 / ことわざ / Proverb
Kanji: 焼き餅焼くとて手を焼くな
Kana: やきもちやくとててをやくな
Translation: Don’t let jealousy get the best of you.

Above is the equivalent translation of what we might say in English, but the Japanese is actually much more descriptive. For whatever reason*, やきもち (literally, “grilled, pounded rice”) also means “jealousy,” the noun. Furthermore, やきもちをやく means both “to grill up some yakimochi,” and “to get jealous,” the verb. So, now that you have this image of your heart as a lump of pounded rice, on fire, roasting with jealousy, you are starting to get the imagery behind how the Japanese imagine the emotion. Now you are ready to hear a slightly more direct translation (by me): “Even in the flames of jealousy, don’t burn your hand.”

Ever hear a Japanese person say to you in English “I envy you” when they mean to say “I’m so jealous!” So what’s the difference? The Japanese, along with several other cultures, have long viewed jealousy as one of the strongest, most dangerous emotions. A woman who dies with feelings of jealousy will become a ghost, or even a demon, instead of passing on peacefully, so it is also believed that too deep a feeling of jealousy can summon misfortune into your life. So, when they want to express that they are happy for your luck and wish they had it too, it seems common sense to avoid a word like jealousy, which to them would only bring the opposite.

* I really don’t know why! Do you?