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I ran across this quote from the famous samurai Takasugi Shinsaku: "動けば雷電の如く、発すれば風雨の如し". My (really) clumsy translation would be something like "If thunder and lightning were to waver, water and wind would follow," but as you can read, it sounds weird and doesn't seem to make much sense. Further I really haven't been able to find out the context in which he said it, so I don't think I really understand what it means. Thanks for any help!!!

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「[動]{うご}けば[雷電]{らいでん}の[如]{ごと}く、[発]{はっ}すれば[風雨]{ふうう}の如し。」

You state that this is a quote from Takasugi, but it is not. This is how Takasugi was metaphorically described by others.

This page gives a good translation of the phrase.

"Moving like the lightning, speaking like the storm."

「発する」 means "to utter words" ⇒ "to speak"

  • Thanks a lot! I saw it in between quotes so I thought that was the case. That use of 発する tricked me. Thanks again! – Marcela alvarez centeno May 23 '16 at 2:02
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「動けば雷電の如く、 発すれば風雨の如し」is not a quote from Takasugi Shinsaku. It’s a phrase dedicated by Takasugi’s coleague in Yoshida Shoin's private school, 松下村塾, and then Japan’s first Prime Minister, Ito Hirobumi as a part of the epitaph engraved in the monument of Takasugi Shinsaku situated in a corner of 東行庵 in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Pref. It was built on May 20, 1911, 44 years after Takasugi's death and two years after Ito's death. You can visit and look at the epitaph there today.

The paragraph of the epitaph in question reads;

「動けば雷電の如く、 発すれば風雨の如し、衆目駭然、敢て正視する者なし。これ我が東行高杉君に非ずや」,

which can be translated as;

“When Takasugi moves, it’s swift like a thunder and lightning. When he utters, it’s fierce like a storm and downpour. Everybody was overwhelmed, and nobody ventures to look at him straight in face. Togyo (a nickname of Shinsaku) Takasugi was a man exactly like this.”

though I'm not very sure of whether 発する can be translated as 'utter a word’.

The original characters of epitaph was written by Sugi Magoshichiro, and engraved by a mason.

The author, Ito Hiobumi was assasinated by a Korean activist in front of Herbin Sation in Manchuria on October 26, 1909 without seeing the completion of the Takasugi's monument on which the epitaph he drafted was engraved.

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