A Hands-On Lesson: Using “te” metaphorically in Japanese

Get a hand-le on your language studies! JCMU Japanese language instructor Ayumi Nagatomi, would like to introduce to you metaphorical uses for the word 手 (hand), exploring a new dictionary written by Dr. Seiichi Makino and Professor Mayumi Oka.


Last November, I introduced some expressions derived from 弓道(きゅうどう).

You may have noticed body parts such as 手(て) (hands) appear in them. Of course, we must maneuver our body to draw a bow and arrow. However, it is often the case that such body parts are used metaphorically.

As you encounter such examples, you may come to realize that there are similar figurative expressions across languages. Only each language’s culture-specific aspect of metaphors tend to be emphasized, but couldn’t we learn through what two languages share?

For those who want to learn more about metaphors and/or learn through them, I would like to introduce you to a newly published dictionary:


Makino, S., & Oka, M. (2017). A Bilingual Dictionary of English and Japanese Metaphors. Tokyo: Kuroshio.

Thanks to the generosity of the authors (牧野(まきの)先生(せんせい) and 岡(おか)先生(せんせい)), who spent almost 20 years completing this work, we can take a peek at some excerpts here:

(pp.290-291) 手(て) hand


the cards dealt to players in a card game



Kenta: Man, why do I always get such bad hands? I’ll never win.


Karen: You really think you can beat me at poker? Maybe in ten years.


Kenta: How are you always getting such good hands?


Karen: Um, rude! It’s not that I get good hands – I’m just that good.

(pp.552-553) (〜に)手(て)をつける 何(なに)かを始(はじ)めるto start working on something

(a)   父(ちち)はいったん手(て)をつけたことには、いつも最善(さいぜん)を尽(つ)くしていた。

My father always did his best at whatever he set his hands to.

(b)   やるべきことが多(おお)すぎて、どこから手(て)をつけていいのかわからない。

There are so many things to do that I don’t know what to set my hands to first.

As you can see, dialogues and example sentences make it easy for you to learn how each expression can be utilized in context. In addition, if you have friends who study English, you may be able to suggest they look into these English equivalents to build up a repertoire of words, too!



Why don’t you advise your friend, who has been trying to study using various means, as to where to start?



If you show them this dictionary, they may exclaim, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

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