Gonbei in Japanese refers to Some Guy (Whose Name is Unknown)

Sadao Mazuka wrote from Japan about the name “Gonbei” which refers to a guy whose name is unknown…

076“The name ‘Gonbei’ or ‘Gonbee’ is a kind of pronoun for a random person, like ‘some guy’ or ‘John Doe’. When people don’t know the name of someone (male), they say ‘Gonbei No-family-name’ (名無しの権兵衛 [nanashi-no Gonbei]).

There’s a folk story about him that created a proverb as an expression to do useless work. …

When Gonbei planted his seeds, the crows would try to eat them.  Once every three throws, Gonbei would chase the birds away, chanting the words ‘zunbera, zunbera’.

The proverb is…

権兵衛(Gonbei)が種まきゃ(sows seeds)カラス(crows)がほじくる(dig up)

Proverb: If a peasant sows seeds, the crows will dig them up.

There’s a famous folk song relating to a kind and gentle soul named Gonbei Uemura.   He spent his days training to be a samurai warrior. But when his father passed away, he became a farmer.  He was known to be so kind to the animals that he would let them eat his newly planted seeds and his crops.

One day Gonbei was asked to kill a snake that was troubling the village. He chased the snake into the mountains and shot it.  In the process he was bitten and he died from the bite.

Many thanks to Sadao Mazuka for sharing the story and proverb of Gonbei with us!

Mama Lisa

Learn more Japanese Expressions like John Doe here.

Learn a Japanese song called Gonbei’s Baby – ごんべさんの赤ちゃん (Gonbei-san no aka-chan)

This article was posted on Tuesday, January 19th, 2016 at 3:55 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Folk Songs, Generic Names for Men and Women, Japan, John Doe, Proverbs, Words & Phrases. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Gonbei in Japanese refers to Some Guy (Whose Name is Unknown)”

  1. "John Doe" Names in Japan Says:

    […] Mazuka recently wrote to us about the "John Doe" name "Gonbei" in Japan, used for someone whose name you don’t know.  He wrote about other phrases in Japanese […]

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