Translating the Iroha Karuta 7: Nailing Down Tofu

The seventh Japanese proverb in some versions of the Iroha Karuta puts together two familiar but incompatible items from Japanese life: tofu and a carpenter’s nail…

The closest “dynamic equivalent” in English is,

“like nailing jelly to the wall.”

It can be applied to a few of familiar situations.

One is where you are dealing with a slippery person who you can’t pin down or get to commit to anything… Maybe you have had a few prospects like that in your online business!

Another, as the Daiso illustration at the top of this post suggests, is when talking to someone gets you nowhere and you feel as if you are wasting your breath because your words go “in one ear and out the other.”

One more case is when you are engaged in a useless endeavour or are using inappropriate tools for the job.

The Japanese goes like this:

Tofu ni kasugai.

kasugai is really a big staple that is commonly used in Japan to fix two pieces of wood together when constructing a building; so the proverb is really telling us that something is “as useless as trying to staple two cubes of tofu together with a carpenter’s staple.”

Is there anything you’ve been doing recently that gives you the impression that you’ve been banging a nail into tofu?

In my case, as an English teacher at a couple of provincial colleges in Japan, I often feel as if I’m banging a nail into tofu when it comes to my students’ ability to retain new information. Nothing seems to gain any purchase with them! LOL!


David Hurley