Bag of Tricks: Part 3

Friday, February 12th, 2010

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As you may know, 知恵 (chie: to know + wisdom) is “wisdom” or “intelligence.” And we’ve seen that (TAI, fukuro) can mean “bag.” Given that, what do you think the following represents?

知恵袋 (chiebukuro)     wisdom (1st 2 kanji) + bag

My cynical side takes over and imagines a wind bag who won’t shut up about everything he claims to know. Not at all. The first definition of “wisdom bag” is literally “bag full of wisdom,” and another meaning is “someone who devises a solution when others have no idea what to do”:

知恵袋 (chiebukuro: (1) bag full of wisdom; bag containing all the world’s wisdom; (2) person who is a fountain of wisdom; brains (of a company))     wisdom (1st 2 kanji) + bag

If it’s strange to imagine an experienced person as a bag, that’s probably no stranger than imagining a wise person as a fountain, as apparently we do in English!

The Japanese know how to put unusual things in bags:


火袋 (hibukuro: fire box in traditional Japanese lantern)
     fire + bag


匂い袋 (nioibukuro: sachet)     fragrance + bag


福袋 (fukubukuro: grab bag; mystery package (with a variety of articles possibly worth more than the purchase price))
     blessing, fortune, luck + bag

Moreover, the Japanese know how to have fun talking about bags; try rolling fukubukuro off your tongue! By the way, if you had never read the definitions of 福袋, you could easily think it stood for “bag full of money,” because can mean “wealth.” Receiving a bag filled with money would certainly seem lucky!

Here’s a particularly unexpected thing to put in a bag—patience! That is, 堪忍 (kannin: to endure + to bear) means “patient endurance, forbearance, forgiveness.” And 堪忍 joins up with in this word:

堪忍袋 (kanninbukuro: one’s store of patience)
     to endure + to bear + bag

So Japanese people don’t store patience in the heart or mind but rather in an abstract bag! Of course, a bag can easily spring a leak. In that case, the following term comes in handy:

堪忍袋の緒が切れる (kanninbukuro no o ga kireru: to be out of patience, be unable to put up with something anymore)

Sample Sentences with 堪忍袋の緒が切れる

What an intimidating phrase! You may be too impatient to dissect it, but let me try. After 堪忍袋 (kanninbukuro: one’s store of patience), we find this:

(o: cord, strap)


The word seems strangely short in a land where people have the patience to say kanninbukuro no o ga kireru—even when they’re already at the end of their rope. (Most of us start to speak in short, crisp, powerful words when we’re that angry!)

Ah … the end of one’s rope. That must be how “cord” figures into a sentence about losing one’s patience. And what has happened to that cord? Here’s the answer:

切れる (kireru: to break (off), snap, wear out)

This is just one meaning; 切れる has many.

Putting it all together, we have this: the cord () belonging to a bag of patience (堪忍袋) has snapped (切れる).

This leaves one thing unexplained—the precise relationship between the cord and the bag. A native speaker says this cord serves as a drawstring that holds the bag shut. The bag contains not just patience but also mounting anger. At a certain point, the bag swells to the bursting point and the cord snaps.

In the West, we don’t have bags of patience! Instead, when English speakers say they’ve come to the end of their rope, they’re referring (perhaps unknowingly) to a tether holding an animal, such as a dog. That tied-up dog can go only as far as the rope permits. As she strains to go farther and farther, trying to reach food that someone dropped, she’ll reach the limits of her resources, abilities, endurance, and patience. That is, she’ll be at the end of her rope!

As I go on and on, I can hear cords snapping and bags of patience exploding, so without further ado, here’s your Verbal Logic Quiz.

Verbal Logic Quiz …

7 Responses to “Bag of Tricks: Part 3”

  1. avatar Eve Kushner Says:

    Kanji Curiosity will be off next week, because I’d like to try posting 3 times a month instead of 4. As I’ve mentioned, I’m working hard to develop another new kanji project, and I’d like to see more progress on that, so I need to devote as much time to it as possible. I’ll see how it feels to post less often here. It’ll be strange, for sure, but I hope the withdrawal feelings aren’t intolerable! :-)

  2. avatar Laurence Wiig Says:


    How dare you? Only three kanji blogs per month? — just when we were getting used to four per month. What do you do with all your spare time anyhow?

    How many hours per day do you watch TV? What is going on?

    Kanjily yours,

    L.W. (He who has only mastered about 300-400 of Heisig’s kanji. Mea culpa, mea culpa.)

  3. avatar Eve Kushner Says:

    Thanks for holding a whip over my head! Good thing to have someone applying pressure, in case I get too relaxed! I’ll do my best to keep going at 100 mph. 頑張ります!

  4. avatar Jessi Says:

    Are you familiar with Yahoo!知恵袋?

    It’s basically the Yahoo! Japan edition of Yahoo Answers, where people ask and answer questions about anything and everything. If I can’t find the answer to some question online (usually Japanese language/linguistic related), I can usually find people talking about it somewhere on Yahoo 知恵袋 :D Highly recommended!

  5. avatar Eve Kushner Says:

    I had no idea, Jessi! That’s great info. Thanks so much!

  6. avatar Hua Says:

    I wonder 知恵袋 has anything to do with the legendary pouches of solution that Zhuge Liang ( left his allies during his absence, which successfully predicted 3 difficulties and their respective solutions.

    “Solutions from the precious bag” is a idiom derived from this story that is widely used in the Chinese language.

    But here I see that the metaphors with “bags” go on and on! very interesting aspect, nice post.

  7. avatar Eve Kushner Says:

    Hi, Hua.

    Thanks for the great comment! I bet you’re onto something with your theory! When you say “solution,” do you mean “answers”? I was thinking maybe of a liquid (like saline solution), but it sounds like the Chinese have put abstract things in bags, too (and first!)!

    I’d never heard of Zhuge Liang, but the link you provided is fascinating and really gives a glimpse of the richness of Chinese culture.

    Learning about China and Chinese reveals SO MUCH about Japan and Japanese (and of course is fascinating in its own right). Your comment makes me long to have access to all that knowledge…. Sigh.

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