Japanese Metaphors


I’m not sure if this goes in Campfire or Japanese Language. Sorry if I chose the wrong category.

I’m doing an applied linguistics project for my linguistics degree and the topic I’ve decided to do is on cultural variation in metaphors. I’m a procrastinator so there is probably no time for me to do this, but it’s heavily recommended to us to conduct our own research through interviews or surveys instead of just relying on reading/watching resources.

Whether or not there is time to implement this into my project, I still consider it an interesting topic. Are there any metaphors you can think of in Japanese that are different to English? Alternatively, are there any metaphors that are the same? And if you speak another language besides English or Japanese, I would be happy to hear about metaphors in your language as well. :slight_smile:

When I refer to metaphors, I am talking about metaphors that have become so conventional that many wouldn’t recognise them as metaphors. For example, it’s believed that “MORE IS UP” is a universal metaphor and that “HAPPY IS UP” is a universal or near universal metaphor linked to it (e.g., our mood falls, but we are able to pick it back up again. He is in high-spirits.) (I think this is all based on the conceptual metaphor theory and is not necessarily fact).

Examples are how we conceptualise anger, happiness, love, arguments, time, health, morality, etc.

Discussing anger metaphors in Chinese, English and Japanese

A metaphor believed to be near universal is that “THE ANGRY PERSON IS A PRESSURIZED CONTAINER” and that “ANGER IS HEAT”. For example, Chinese and English both associate anger with heat, but while anger is fluid in a container in English (you make my blood boil, seething with rage), it is gas in a container in Chinese. Japanese also uses heat for anger, but the concept of hara (anger being in the belly) is unique to Japanese.

Time as a resource

In English, we often talk about time as a resource like money. We spend time, budget time, waste time, invest time, buy time, use up time, etc.

Argument is struggle

We lose and win arguments, defend our points and attack our opponent’s, shoot down someones arguments, etc.


I guess the biggest metaphor that doesn’t exist in English is the one of the 気 ?

There is literally almost hundred of collocations involving 気. When there is a 気 we are interested in something (気がある) but when there isn’t we are not (気がない), when we attach our 気 we are paying attention (気を付ける)、when the 気 is scattered or when we pull out the 気 we are distracted (気が散る、気を抜く), when the 気 is small or weak we are timid (気が小さい、気が弱い) but when the 気 is big we are generous (気が大きい) etc etc. See jisho 気 and click on show collocation to see them all.