Jul 14, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Argument against universal health care?


Binbou-wa tassha-no moto

Meaning of Japanese:
Poverty is the root of (foundation for) good health

English equivalent:

*Can anybody think of something equivalent? I haven't found any aphorisms or popular sayings that match this nicely... most sayings deal with poverty in a negative light. Although, to be fair, I did find two minor (to me) quotes that are pretty close:
"Poverty is the mother of health" - attrib. to George Herbert, and
"Poverty is the step-mother of invention" - attrib. to Josh Billings.

Also related is the "Early to bed and early to rise" quote attrib. to Ben Franklin. The intent of the original Japanese kotowaza above is that those without much money must sleep and rise early, and work hard to make a modest living, this lifestyle supposedly being the best for good physical health.


At 7/18/2005 2:40 PM, Blogger Safety Neal said...

That's a very interesting kotowaza. I wonder if it reflects a genuine cultural divide b/w Americans and Japanese. I am curious, though, about the translation as poverty.

Poverty is relative and poverty covers everything from the truly destitute (e.g. the homeless) to the working poor (i.e. working 40 hours at a semi-decent job, but the bills are still more than the take home pay).

Do the Japanese have a range of words to describe poverty? This sounds more like working poor rather than truly destitute.

I actually think this kotowaza is contrary to the basis of the American dream. In this country there is a mythical belief that if you work hard (and sleep with the right people), you can become rich...

Thank you Horatio Alger.

At 7/25/2005 10:22 PM, Blogger eBohn said...

Good points all, Safety Neal. I'll get to the translation in a second, but to start off I'd like to suggest that this kotowaza probably dates back to a time when, in Japan at least, there were no truly destitute (in the sense I think you're driving at) members of the population. My guess is that most citizens under the feudal system either had skillz or a master who provided for the most basic needs in exchange for manual labor. I could be wrong.

As for translation, sometimes I just grab the first word that fits nicely. Poverty is a noun that conveys the condition of "not having" - just what the Japanese is getting at. Intrigued by your question, though, I looked up destitute, in addition to re-checking all the possible translations for poverty and poor. (In Japanese, adjectives can often be formed by adding a particular suffix to a noun. Thus, poverty becomes poor.) Anyway, a total of about three words came up... all sharing the same root character 貧 (bin or hin). Maybe they correspond to varying degrees of want.

Back to the kotowaza, I think you're right on track. Working poor, motivated. Destitute, smoking crack.

At 12/01/2005 2:31 PM, Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system. Health insurance is a major aspect to many.


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