In a book I was reading, a tomboyish character complained about the expectations her parents had of her as their only daughter. She said:


EDICT defines 蝶よ花よ as "bringing up (one's daughter) like a princess." Is this accurate? What is the etymology of this phrase?

3 Answers 3


(This is a longer version of my comment on YOU’s answer.)

Let me state an objection to what seems to be a popular theory about the origin of 蝶よ花よ, which YOU also stated as (not main) part of the answer.

As YOU said, a few (actually more than a few) pages claim that the phrase 蝶よ花よ appeared in the form 花や蝶や in Makura no Sōshi (completed in 1002). However, this claim seems groundless to me.

Some of these pages even quote the poem in Makura no Sōshi which contains the phrase 花や蝶や:

みな人の花や蝶やといそぐ日もわがこころをば君ぞ知りける (みなひとの はなやちょうやと いそぐひも わがこころをば きみぞしりける) While everyone cares only about beautiful things such as flowers and butterflies, you and only you care about my heart.

In this quote, 花や蝶や describes two examples of beautiful things. But I cannot see any connection between this meaning and the phrase 蝶よ花よ which describes how a child is raised with a lot of (or even too much) affection.

So 花や蝶や in the quote above has a different order, a different particle and a different meaning from 蝶よ花よ. I find it much more reasonable to consider 花や蝶や above as unrelated from the set phrase 蝶よ花よ rather than the same phrase in a different form and usage, unless there is some evidence suggesting otherwise.

As I said, there are many pages stating this as the origin of 蝶よ花よ. But my gut feeling is that it seems that they copied this claim from somewhere (possibly without thinking). As is often the case in this kind of discussions in linguistics, the large number of pages claiming something is hardly a measure of reliability of the claim.

Neither Daijisen nor Daijirin states the origin of the phrase 蝶よ花よ. I do not have access to a larger dictionary.


According to JapanKnowledge and Idiom Dictionary,

蝶よ花よ usage can be found at 1745 on Natsumatsuri Naniwakagami 「夏祭浪花鑑」, a Bunraku play:


A(wet) nurse enjoys to see one's growth like 蝶よ花よ, without noticing oneself wrinkle or white hair.

According to above sentence, your definition about "like a princess" should be correct, and state that could lead to spoil/pamper children.

Few pages says that, possible origin could be from 花や蝶や → 蝶や花や → 蝶よ花よ → ちやほや
(Or above may be just rumor because there is no official proof for that as Tsuyoshi and Boaz pointed out.)

As as side note, decent word ちやほや have similar meaning and normally use on conversation.

  • 1
    Good answer, but I wouldn't say 蝶よ花よ originally comes from 蝶や花や. This may be the case, but all the dictionaries say is simply that it's equivalent to 蝶や花や. Besides, the first time this expression appears (in Natsumatsuri Naniwakagami) it appears as 蝶よ花よ.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 7, 2011 at 6:24
  • @Boaz, True, I also noticed that, but this one says "蝶よ花よという言葉は現代の表現方法であり、元々は「花や蝶や」と言っていました。" But that post said 花や蝶や not 蝶や花や, so I didn't post it as a reference for origin.
    – YOU
    Jun 7, 2011 at 6:28
  • I've also made a small edit, I hope you don't mind. 浄瑠璃 is not part of the play's name, but probably a reference to it being a 人形浄瑠璃 (Puppet Jōruri), which is another term for Bunraku.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 7, 2011 at 6:31
  • @Boaz, Thanks a lot. I have no knowledge on that stuff, and I just knew it today.
    – YOU
    Jun 7, 2011 at 6:32
  • @YOU: Hmm... I haven't found that in any dictionary. It seems plausible, but I don't know if there's any proof for that.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 7, 2011 at 6:32

Second EDIT

I've finally traced this to a wedding song originated in the city of Shizukuishi(雫石町) in the Iwate prefecture(岩手県):


目出度~の 若松様だ
枝も栄える 葉も茂る

蝶よ花よと 育てた娘
今日は他人の 手に渡す

Source: http://www.bunka.pref.iwate.jp/seikatsu/minyou/shousai/minyou_001.html

The main part of this song in relation to this phrase being:

蝶よ花よと 育てた娘 今日は他人の 手に渡す

Where the bride that has been raised with love and care is given to another person.


I'm still doing some research, but I did find something interesting regarding an alternate explanation. While searching, I found mention of this word related to 「月よ星よ」. Looking up the definition of this:


Loose Translation: "To love and praise exceedingly"

Which has a similar meaning to 「蝶よ花よ」.

While doing some research on this, I found a rather interesting alternative explanation

regarding this when referring to a Chinese origin:

ほう RT @petite_chate: 中国語の「蝶花」を「チャオファオ」と読むのが関係してるかもです。 QT: @marianna_ave: 自己レス。「蝶よ花よ」が詰まって、ちやほや か。 RT @marianna_ave: @hakubi 「チヤホヤ」の語源ってなんだろ。

Source: http://twitter.com/#!/hakubi/status/20881151047

In this case referencing it to the Chinese pronunciation of 「蝶花」 as 「チャオフャオ」(cyao fyao). Interestingly the phrase appears to be attributed to ちやほや, Which means to pamper or spoil.

  • I saw this claim a lot on the web, too, but is there any authoritative source that claims it? 蝶 and 花 were brought to Japanese as てふ (ちょう) and か, and I cannot see any explanation why they might have been brought as different sounds only in the case of ちやほや. This makes me suspect that this is yet another groundless claim floating around on the web. Jun 7, 2011 at 21:33
  • @Tsuyoshi I'm still searching on the official source for this, or the Makura no Sōshi theory. I've already reached out to some faculty members that specialize in East Asian languages to see what I can come up with. Once I find something from an authoritative source, I will update accordingly. For now I will leave this answer here in the event that it helps someone else find an authoritative answer.
    – onteria_
    Jun 7, 2011 at 21:58
  • Looking forward to the outcome! Jun 7, 2011 at 22:31
  • @Tsuyoshi I'm still researching, but I did notice a page that connected this phrase with 月よ星よ, which looking at the definition it matches more closely, and the format is very similar. Still trying to connect how one lead to the other though.
    – onteria_
    Jun 8, 2011 at 14:14
  • Thanks for the update. Indeed, a possible connection between 蝶よ花よ and 月よ星よ is interesting. Jun 8, 2011 at 14:50

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