A “handful” of fun Japanese expressions

These are great expressions for learners of all levels. For those learning vocabulary, learning longer expressions enables one to listen to foreign words in a more natural context, making it easier to memorize them. For those who want to move on to a more advanced Japanese, these expressions will help you start understanding metaphoric Japanese, a skill that is sure to get you the appreciation of native speakers. Let’s start with…

the head

頭にくる(あたまにくる・atama ni kuru)
Literally: to come to one’s head
Meaning: to get mad, to get pissed off

頭が柔らかい(あたまがやわらかい・atama ga yawarakai)
Literally: to have a flexible head
Meaning: to be open-minded

頭が上がらない(あたまがあがらない・atama ga agaranai)
Literally: to be unable to raise one’s head
Meaning: to be no match for someone, to be outclassed or unequal

頭を捻る(あたまをひねる・atama wo hineru)
Literally: to wring one’s head
Meaning: to wrack one’s brains over a problem

猫の額のように(ねこのひたいのように・neko no hitai no you ni)
Literally: like a cat’s forehead
Meaning: terribly small (as in, a room or house)

The hands

手に入る(てにはいる・te ni hairu)
Literally: to enter in one’s hand
Meaning: to acquire, to get one’s hands on (as in “buying”)

手に余る(てにあまる・te ni amaru)
Literally: to exceed one’s hand
Meaning: to be beyond one’s capacities or one’s control

手に負えない(てにおえない・te ni oenai)
Literally: unmanageable by one’s own hand
Meaning: adjective for an incorrigible or spoiled person

手に汗を握る(てにあせをにぎる・te ni ase wo nigiru)
Literally: to grasp sweat in one’s hand
Meaning: to sit on the edge of one’s seat, in suspense

The chest

胸が躍る(むねがおどる・mune ga odoru)
Literally: for one’s chest to leap or dance
Meaning: to be elated

胸がいっぱいになる(むねがいっぱいになる・mune ga ippai ni naru)
Literally: for one’s chest to become full
Meaning: to get a lump in one’s throat

胸を痛める(むねをいためる・mune wo itameru)
Literally: to hurt one’s chest
Meaning: to worry oneself about

The hips

腰が軽い(こしがかるい・koshi ga karui)
Literally: to have light hips
Meaning: hastily, cheerfully

腰が重い(こしがおもい・koshi ga omoi)
Literally: to have heavy hips
Meaning: to be slow in acting

腰が抜ける(こしがぬける・koshi ga nukeru)
Literally: to have one’s hips fall out from under one
Meaning: to go weak on the knees

腰を掛ける(こしをかける・koshi wo kakeru)
Literally: to place one’s hips somewhere
Meaning: to sit down

The legs

足を運ぶ(あしをはこぶ・ashi wo hakobu)
Literally: to transport one’s legs
Meaning: To show up, to come to a function

足を延ばす(あしをのばす・ashi wo nobasu)
Literally: to stretch one’s legs
Meaning: … well, to stretch one’s legs.

膝が笑う(ひざがわらう・hiza ga warau)
Literally: to have one’s knees laugh
Meaning: To have one’s knees about to give out

BONUS: the whole body

身の置き所が無い(みのおきどころがない・mi no okidokoro ga nai)
Literally: having no place to put one’s body
Meaning: feeling out of place, being so embarrassed one wants to disappear


Are there any funny Japanese expressions that you’ve heard and would like to share with other readers? Be sure to share them in the comment section!

  • el memer ,


    • Surimu ,

      came here looking up 足を運ぶ and now i get to learn a whole bunch of phrases! thank you!