てんはにぶつをあたえず (tenha nibutsuwo ataezu)
* “J-WOTD” = “Japanese Word of the Day”
Rather than being a “J-Word of the Day”, this is a great ことわざ that I heard today. It is a strange one, and would normally instinctively go against the grain for most foreigners.
It literally means, “God (or heaven) doesn’t hand out double servings (of talent, or skill)”.
One of my bosses used it talking about another guy at work, pointing out that he is really skilled at what he does technically, but can not really deal well with other people well. He said 「天は二物を与えずですよ」 and was quite happy that this guy was highly skilled in his area. I guess this is why so many Japanese people find it easy to settle into one profession, and become a real craftsman at what they do (this is different of course from just being a stagnant salaryman all your life though!). It is interesting that 職人 (craftsmen) are valued much more in this country than overseas, and this phrase brought that realisation home for me.
Westerners (I will not go so far as to say “all gaijin”) usually will not hesitate to swap and change careers or professions in the pursuit of money, even if it is at the expense of their vault of skill, talent or know-how that they have built up in their career thus far. Japanese people do not need to be rich or famous in order to be deeply respected, and I value that part of the Japanese spirit. People here generally realise that one just can’t have it all, and are generally happy with their own natural talents. Is it better to spend your life chasing something you may never get, or just enjoy yourself, and what you have?