The Japanese language, like any other language, has a rich inventory of witty and useful proverbs.
In this short episode, show host Kyota Ko explains the meaning and cultural background behind the Japanese proverb 女心と秋の空 “The minds of women and the autumn sky.”
Hello world, you are listening to the Metro-classic Japanese. My name is Kyota Ko and I’m here to give you insight into Japanese culture of the past and present in the most enjoyable way possible within the Podcast medium.
I’m always looking for fun ways to share my home culture with you, and just recently, I looked up a Japanese proverb online at work in Japanese, and saw that there were many webpages giving the English equivalent of Japanese proverbs. Little did I know there was so much demand for it.
I had written a blog article about 10 Japanese proverbs I translated into English myself. That went viral on Facebook about a year ago. It was the first blog article that went viral for me writing about Japanese culture, but at that time, I thought it was just a lucky punch. I’ll put a link to it in the blog post for this podcast.
So anyway, I was going through lots of proverbs of many cultures to gather hints to figure out how best to translate Japanese proverbs accurately without losing the poetic rhythm or feel. Now what you would realize through studying proverbs of different cultural origins are two things:
1. There are many proverbs with equivalents across cultures.
For example Japanese proverbs are sought out for a bit more these days perhaps because of the popularity of Zen. But to be honest, there is most likely an English idiom or proverb-equivalent already to any Japanese proverb people find interesting or enlightening. We are all the same human beings after all and the life lessons we learn in any location and time in history tend to be similar. But,
2. Proverbs are not about WHAT it points out, but HOW it does it
Proverbs are interesting not because of WHAT point they make but HOW they persuade you to nod in agreement. The HOW part is where the uniqueness of each culture kicks in.
Like the English proverb “It’s no use crying over spilt milk.” If you look up the etymology, it’s origin dates all the way back to the 1600s. English people had milk on their dining tables from way back then. That was a major source of nutrients. You can imagine people in the 1600s swearing when milk was spilt, just like we do today.
So you can visualize and feel that culture from that one-line proverb, and you can instantly relate to people who lived hundreds of years ago. I think proverbs are a form of art.
Japanese Proverb: “The minds of women and the autumn sky”
My most favorite Japanese proverb of all is 女心と秋の空 which I would translate to “The minds of women and the autumn sky.”
This is a textbook example of valuable proverbs, not because it claims something universal about women because it doesn’t, but because it gives you an idea of the relationship between men and women here in Japan, and that the relationship depicted through this proverb has been the same for many, many centuries. It’s quite amusing so hear me out.
So Japan is in a geographical location where there would be 4 seasons every year – spring, summer, autumn and winter. Spring and autumn are the nice seasons as they are the transitory seasons between the hot summer and the cold winter. Spring is warm and you get to see all the pretty cherry blossom trees, and autumn is cool and you get to see the beautiful autumn leaves. So naturally everyone looks forward to the next spring and the next autumn.
Well, everyone except people with severe hay fever, that is. For those of us with hay fever, which accounts for about 30% of the population the last time the government checked in 2008, spring and autumn can be the most miserable times of the year. But we’ll talk about that another time.
The other thing about the Japanese autumn is that the weather and temperature fluctuate rapidly. You’ll have a clear sky on one day but the next morning you can have a heavy load of clouds and rain.
So the proverb goes “The minds of women and the autumn sky.” To me, this is really funny because although it is clearly hinting that there is something in common with the minds of women and the autumn sky, notice that instead of making an obvious metaphor like “The minds of women are like the autumn sky”, the sentence does not explicitly compare the two. It just states two items. A and B. Nothing more.
I feel this is how Japanese men, for centuries, have coped with situations where they run into sudden changes of heart of their loved ones. You know, when you get into a quarrel with your girlfriend, and she says “I don’t want to talk to you anymore!” And you’re already kinda sorry so you keep quiet and refrain from calling or texting her as a punishment onto yourself. You think you need to suck this up and use this alone-time to reflect on your own actions and words.
And then late at night when you’re about to fall asleep you receive a text from your girlfriend and she says “Why didn’t you call me!”
I know, as an adult now, girlfriends often do not literally mean it when they say “I don’t want to talk to you anymore”, they want to see a sign of apology in some other way, but men are simple, and being young makes us even simpler.
We take things literally. So from the eyes of a young man, we’re like “Oh, but you said you didn’t want to… I thought you wanted to rain a bit longer…?” But we realize it’s not time to start an argument again, besides the likelihood of us winning quarrels against women is skim, so it’s best to keep our mouths shut.
So after all is settled and we’re lovey-dovey again, we say, with a sigh, “Oh the minds of women and the autumn sky.” And we let it pass. Because we love her for what she is, and her ups and downs are beyond our control, just like how we love autumn dearly and weather volatility is beyond our control.
What makes it funnier is that there is a male version of this proverb: 男心と秋の空 The minds of men and the autumn sky.
So the next time you come across an autumn weather in your relationship, utter this proverb and let it pass, because seasons pass. Shift your focus on feeling grateful about having autumn itself.
Thank you for listening to this short little episode. I think I’ll do this again. I’ll talk about how Japanese proverbs can show you a glimpse of life in Japan. And make sure to check out The Metro-classic Japanese blog and Instagram for amusing yet beautiful representations of Japanese culture. それでは、またお会いしましょう。