I came across this proverb 世の中は三日見ぬ間の桜かな。 Actually just this part 三日見ぬ間の桜かな。 Now 見ぬ is an ancient form of 見ない。

I found some sides in French, which I don't speak. There is a translation on languagerealm which just seems wrong, so I won't post it here and I found a Japanese person trying to translate it into English, but his English was not up to the task.

The proverb lacks a verb, where a verb should be, somewhere before かな and after 桜. Now 三日見ぬ間, three days of not looking/ の桜, "at" the cherry blossoms/ かな ???

Now the thing with かな is, it can mean "I wonder", it can mean "is it?", it could mean "I hope that" but then the sentence needs to be negative. This brings me back to my problem of the missing verb. I'd like to read it as: 世の中は "In this world,", 三日見ぬ間の桜かな "I hope we get three days to look at the cherry blossoms". (as in life is really short, yet wonderful). I wouldn't mind reading it as: 世の中は "In this world,", 三日見ぬ間の桜 "not looking at the cherry blossoms for three days", かな "astonishing" (as in, woah the quick change of the world)

I am open to other interpretations, my Japanese is not good. Please tell me, how you would read it and explain why. Where is the verb? Are there ancient grammar rules at work? How am I wrong and how wrong am I?

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    cherry blossoms are notorious for the brevity of their bloom. if you waited a few brief days to go out and take in their beauty, it’ll have already passed. it seems this proverb is suggestive of the urgency(???) to go out and do something or else the moment/opportunity will have already passed. i’d say this fragment is missing much more than just a verb. but that’s what perhaps makes it more evocative.
    – A.Ellett
    Sep 22, 2020 at 12:56

1 Answer 1


This "proverb" is actually a haiku by the eighteenth-century poet 大島{おおしま}蓼太{りょうた}. Like many haiku, it lacks a main verb.

かな does convey the sense that the poet is surprised or impressed – in this case, by the rapid pace at which the world is changing – but "astonishing" might be a little strong.

-ぬ is the 連体形 of the negative particle -ず, so 見ぬ is modifying 間. Thus, 三日見ぬ間の桜 isn't "three days of not looking at the cherry blossoms," but "cherry blossoms that one hasn't looked at for three days."

Finally, は marks 世の中 as the "theme" of the poem, and this 世の中 doesn't mean the natural world, as you seem to have assumed, but the world of human affairs. So the poet is not talking about what happens "in this [natural] world," but rather commenting specifically on the state of society, by comparing the pace of change to the speed with which cherry blossoms come into bloom and then scatter. (Cherry blossoms are famously short-lived, and it's literally true that you could look at them one day and see them in full bloom, then come back after not looking at them for three days and find them gone. By the Edo period, when this poem was written, Japanese poets had been using cherry blossoms as a metaphor for impermanence for centuries.)

So the poem is saying that the world (i.e., contemporary Japanese society) is like cherry blossoms one hasn't looked at for three days – it has undergone sudden and drastic transformation. And of course, the clear implication is also that this change is for the worse.

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