One of my favourite Japanese proverbs: nana korobi ya oki, which translates to ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight’. It expresses the Japanese devotion to working earnestly and persisting – telling us that, to make progress in life, we will inevitably sometimes strive to go beyond what we are currently capable of, which means we may very well fail and need to dust ourselves off before trying again.
七転び八起き - Nana Korobi Ya Oki Meaning
Nana Korobi Ya Oki is an example of yojijukugo; four-kanji proverb.
七 = nana = seven
転び = korobi = fall
八 = ya = eight
起き = oki = rise
If we fail again, we get back up again.This approach highlights that failing at something is not necessarily a bad thing. It can force us to evaluate whether what we are doing or pursuing is of value.
Nana korobi ya oki reminds us to persist even though we may be out of our comfort zone; this is how we can achieve things that we wouldn't have thought possible. More importantly, this is how we can grow: Failure allows us to learn humility, to discover ways of adapting, and to refine our technique.
Often people take setbacks too personally, equating failure at one task with being a failure as a person overall. This is not helpful or healthy. In fact, bouncing back from these setbacks can give us the feeling that we are self-actualizing, that our life is moving forward – a key contributor to ikigai-kan.
Calligraphy artist and teacher Rie Takeda uses 七転び八起き as a template when teaching shodo, Japanese calligraphy, as it is not too complicated for beginners to learn and holds an uplifting meaning that we can always rise to the occasions that life offers us.
Nick: This one's interesting because it's a proverb, or actually it's a yojijukugo, so it's a four-character kanji, that's essentially a proverb, I guess. And it's Nana Korobi Ya Oki. Some people might know this, it's getting a little bit popular. So what does this one mean? And why did you choose this one?
Seven falls, eight rises
Rie: That means seven falls, eight rises. I wanted to pick a yojijukugo in this style, not too complicated to practise, but also like the proverb which has the positive uplifting meaning.
Nick: So we should break it down first, so Nana is seven.
Rie: Nana is seven and Korobi is fall, to fall. And eight is hachi, and Ya is hachi, so eight or eight times. And Oki is to rise, to get up. So one can already envisage the abstract movement or the picture. So that means we will experience a lot of ups and downs in life, but we will be fine in the end. It's more like accepting our difficulties again and again.
Nick: So does it also mean to have persistence and not give up and to keep trying? Or is that a Western interpretation?
The ability to get through life's difficulties
Rie: It's not necessarily that basically, you have a result. It's more like how we overcome difficulties. It's not always visible or physical.
Nick: So it's not always used in relation to one specific goal. In the West, as I mentioned, some people love this expression so much that they tattoo it on their arm or shoulder, and think, oh, yeah, like, don't give up, it's persistence. And if you've got a goal, you've just gotta keep trying even if you fail 5, 6, 7 times, you rise again.
Rie: Yeah, that's the clear meaning as well. But I understand a bit more like, the mental sort of ups and down. So even if you cannot see the light, it would be there, you just cannot see it at this moment. So maybe you open another door or go to another path. So it's got a deeper sort of darkness and light.
Nick: So it sounds like there's an element of hope to it. There's hope for you.
Rie: That's what I explain.