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Goin’ Japanesque!

13 Japanese Idioms Using Body Parts

We’re sure that there are many countries/languages that have idiomatic phrases which have meanings beyond the literal meanings that the phrases imply. There are examples of those in Japan as well. Of such idioms, here we will introduce those that use parts of the body in the phrases along with the translation and literal meanings of the phrases. Many of these phrases require a bit of imagination to guess the idiomatic meanings. Can you guess what these idioms mean from their literal translations?


1. Age-ashi wo toru



Literal Translation: To take one’s raised foot
Idiomatic Meaning: To accuse or criticize someone’s slip of the tongue or when someone has misspoken.
Origin: Comes from judo; from the action of taking the opponent’s foot as they are in mid-kick, and to defeat them.


2. Hoppeta ga ochiru


Literal Translation: The cheeks drop
Idiomatic Meaning: To say something is very delicious.
Origin: To express that so much food was stuffed in the mouth because it is so delicious, that the cheeks become full and drop.


3. Ashi wo arau


Literal Translation: To wash one’s feet.
Idiomatic Meaning: To cut all ties from past wrongdoings or disorderly lifestyle. It is similar to saying “Washing one’s hands of something” in English.


4. Ashi ga omoi


Literal Translation: Heavy feet.
Idiomatic Meaning: To have to do something, but difficult to get in the mood to do it.


5. Ashi ga tonoku


Literal Translation: That the feet become far away
Idiomatic Meaning: When a place/person was visited often in the past, but the visits have become less frequent or if the visit has not occurred in a long time.


6. Ashi wo hipparu


Literal Translation: To pull one’s leg.
Idiomatic Meaning: To interfere with someone’s success or promotion; when one individual/small part of a group is hindering the success or victory of the entire group. In English, when “to pull one’s leg” means to kid someone but in Japanese it has a completely different meaning.


7. Ashi ga bo ni naru


Literal Translation: Legs become sticks
Idiomatic Meaning: That the feet/legs become tired and rigid from standing or walking for too long.
Origin: Comes from the legs feeling as rigid as sticks from the tightening of the muscles.


8. Ashi wo mukete nerarenai


Literal Translation: Cannot sleep with the feet facing in his/her direction.
Idiomatic Meaning: Expresses that you are grateful that a person has done something for you.
Origins: To place your feet in a certain direction is considered to signify an act of disrespect. Since sleeping is something that we do every night, it stresses the idea that the feeling of gratitude continues on and on.


9. Atama wo kakaeru


Literal Translation: To hold one’s head in their arms.
Idiomatic translation: To be extremely troubled that they have to bury their head in their arms and think very hard.


10. Atama wo kaku


Literal Translation: To scratch one’s head.
Idiomatic Translation: To feel humbled or embarrassed about making a mistake.


11. Atama wo shiboru


Literal Translation: To wring one’s head.
Idiomatic Translation: To think really hard about a tough decision.


12. Omedama wo kurau


Literal Translation: To eat a big eyeball
Idiomatic Meaning: To be scolded or yelled at, particularly by one’s superior


13. Okuba ni mono ga hasamaru


Literal Translation: To have something stuck in the back teeth.
Idiomatic Meaning: To be allusive and not say something directly.


These idioms sure sound funny when directly translated. Learning these phrases allow for some very advanced Japanese communication! We are sure you will be hearing some of these phrases in everyday conversation if you are in Japan. We hope this is helpful for your daily Japanese conversation!

Related: 15 Idioms with Cats: Japanese Love Neko

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About the author

Kimi is a Japanese living in Tokyo. She has spent half her life living overseas in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Her hobbies are traveling, eating, drinking and beautifying. She enjoys yoga and has a daily goal of running 6.5 km to offset her love of beer and junk food.

View all articles by Kimi