飛んで火に入る夏の虫 – Like a moth to the flame

One of my favorite TV shows takes a camera crew to the airport and interviews foreigners who have just arrived in Japan about what they are here to do. Perhaps you’ve seen it – YOUは何しに日本へ (Why did you come to Japan?-TVTokyo).

Several recent episodes followed the adventures of two young guys from Denmark who arrived for a 3-month stay and no plans! The boys became known for how they fanned open their guide book, closed their eyes and randomly picked out a page. Wherever their finger landed, they went. They used this method again and again throughout their Japan travels.

I decided to borrow their high-tech selection method with a book my father-in-law gave me a few years ago. It’s a book of 500 Japanese sayings or kotowaza called Kotowaza Gohyakusen by Gyoun Ishida (「諺五百選」 石田行雲, 1996). Though I love the book, it’s not something you can pick up and read cover to cover. I’ve moved it back and forth from the living room to my bedside waiting to be inspired. Thanks to the boys from Denmark, it’s finally time.

The first saying I opened the book to was 飛んで火に入る夏の虫 (tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi) – summer bugs fly into the flame. Hmm, sounds pretty close to drawn like a moth to the flame. After asking around though I found a slight difference in the usage or nuance.

Both Japanese and English speakers use the saying when referring to situations that we are irresistibly drawn to even though they might be dangerous. English speakers can also use this saying when they talk about being irresistibly drawn to a person or group of people. I haven’t heard it used this way in Japanese. Have you? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

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