Sansho wa kotsubu de mo piriri to karai
A pepper is small but hot

We have tended to think that “bigger is better.” Even though we know this is not always the case, it is hard to escape this preconception. Perhaps this is because, for most of human history, this was true. The bigger a man was, the stronger a hunter or warrior he was. The bigger an animal, the more meat it would have or the more work it could do. However the Japanese, who are masters at making things smaller and better, have a saying that reminds us that this is not always true.

Sansho wa kotsubu de mo piriri to karai means, “Even though peppers are small, they are fiery hot.” Even though they are small, peppers really pack a wallop and make an impression. In fact, it is usually the case that, the smaller the pepper, the hotter they are. The lesson here is that it is not the size of the person or thing that determines its power or impact.

You could use this expression if you are being teased about your small size. You could also use it if a potential customer lacks confidence in your business because it is not a huge corporation. You could use this to encourage your group, team, or company when they are feeling like they don't have the size, resources, or manpower to accomplish a task or goal. You can also use this to refer to things as well. The latest cell phones, for example, pack more processing power than computers filling whole buildings a few decades ago.

So the next time someone puts you down because of your size remember, Sansho wa kotsubu de mo piriri to karai desu ne.

Usage note: Most Japanese sayings can be turned into complete sentences just by adding “desu” to the end. To add emphasis, add “desu yo”. To ask for agreements (think, “yeah,” “right,” “you know”), add “desu ne”.


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