Translated proverbs can sound downright bizarre to a foreign ear. So embedded in a culture, it’s almost impossible
to understand from an outside point of view. We challenged Japan-based artists to interpret the wisdom of these kotowaza (Japanese proverbs) in their own illustrative styles.

Carina Rosemary Snake


Literally: “My hand is coming out of my throat.”
Equivalent: “I really want that!”

“I find this kotowaza slightly discomforting. I imagine someone with a desire so strong that their hand really does grow out of their throat, stretching almost monstrously towards their target. Especially when I hear it in Japanese, I imagine a yokai (a supernatural creature in Japanese folklore).

In my drawing, I hoped to express the phenomenon of craving something so powerfully that we lose sight of our surroundings. Sometimes I become so utterly focused on my desire that I act a little foolishly and unconsciously put myself in harm’s way.

I believe that our desires, when powerful, can fuel us in ways that enable us to achieve great things. It’s also important to note when we become a little less sane in the process. In a way, this drawing acts as a gentle reminder to myself of just that.

For commissions visit Carina’s Website
monomizer illustration


明日の事を言え ば鬼が笑う

Literally:  “Speak of tomorrow and the ogres laugh.”
Equivalent:  “No one knows what the future holds.”

“When I think about and read this Japanese proverb, I feel a strong negative feeling regarding the folly of humans and impermanence regarding life. However, with the English equivalent, I sense a more positive direction — endless possibilities, transformation, etc. So, I’ve opted to touch on both of those and use imagery and symbols found in golden age Dutch paintings, particularly vanitas still life paintings. My goal is to juxtapose the negative and positive interpretations of the proverb.”

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Sashimi illustration


Literally: “Never having had to lift anything heavier than chopsticks.”
Equivalent:“Born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”

SASHIMI’s work often uses vibrant pop-art colors and endearingly innocent figures. When we gave SASHIMI this kotowaza, we wanted to see what kind of atmosphere she’d give to the character and scene. Would the point of view of the illustration be that of a criticizing gaze upon the subject? Would the character appear naive? Greedy?

Reach out to SASHIMI for commissions and follow her work on Instagram