What are we talking about?
One of my favourite aspects of the language is 四字熟語 (“yojijukugo”, 4-character idioms). A way of Japanese sayings which literally, it means:
yo(yon) = 四 = four
ji = 字 = character
jukugo = 熟語 = phrase
These four character kanji compounds can be used in all sorts of situations and are a very convenient way on conveying a complex concept simply and quickly. Many yojijukugo have an idiomatic meaning that can’t be easily determined just by looking at the characters, although some are quite easy to understand. Becoming a master at using yojijukugo will take a lot of practice. But here are a few of the more common ones to memorize. Break these out in conversation with your friends and watch their jaws drop!
1. 弱肉強食 (“Jakunikukyoushoku”)
Character meanings: weak/meat/strong/eat
English idiom: Law of the jungle (literally, the weak are meat for the strong to eat)
2. 一石二鳥 (“Issekinichou”)
Character meanings: one/stone/two/bird
English idiom: Kill two birds with one stone
3. 一期一会 (“Ichigoichie”)
Character meanings: one/period/one/meeting
English idiom: Once in a lifetime
4. 自画自賛 (“Jigaijisan”)
Character meanings: self/painting/self/praise
English idiom: Blowing one’s own horn
As always, there’s a lot more info about these, with examples, on Wikipedia.