The phrase "Unable to see the forest for the trees" implies one is too entangled in a situation to understand what is transpiring from a larger context, and thus, unable to determine the correct course of action.

I'd like to know whether a native Japanese hearer: 1. told this phrase in Japanese would interpret it to have the same meaning? 2. would accept the word 森 to mean a very large amount of information?

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    The non-verbatim translation for those curious: 「彼は細部[ささいなこと]にこだわって大局を見ていない。」 Source: eow.alc.co.jp/see+forest+trees/UTF-8/?ref=sa
    – onteria_
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 17:05
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    It's not a cliché, it is a figure of speech, or a proverb, or possibly a metaphor.
    – Kdansky
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 19:25
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    @onteria_: I know this is the most common translation, but it's actually not a verbatim translation, since it says "Sees the tree(s), doesn't see the forest." A truly verbatim translation would be 木々のため森が見えず。 But the saying about the trees and the forest exists in many languages, and its a bit different in each of them.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 19:48
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    You are missing the point of my comment. Your use of the word “cliché” actually caused an irrelevant debate, and I think that it was unwise. You could have avoided this unnecessary argument by simply avoiding claiming that it was a cliché. Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 10:06
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    (1) Please do not use the nonstandard abbreviation “?” for the word “question.” It took me a while to understand that. (2) I did not edit your question, but I think that Ignacio’s edit increased relevance of the question to this website by removing the controversial and irrelevant statement in your original question. Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 19:50

3 Answers 3


In my 故事ことわざ辞典、「木を見て森を見ず」 is from English phrase "You cannot see the woods for the trees".

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And regarding plural form, 「木」 can mean many trees in Japanese, since Japanese grammar does not always have plural form.

And also In 国語辞典、explanation of 「木を見て森を見ず」 is


using 一本一本の木, which means each tree instead of 一本の木 (one tree).

So, 「木を見て森を見ず」 might be verbatim translation of "Unable to see the forest for the trees" in Japanese.


I've seen somewhere a saying (Confucian?), like "looking but not seeing, hearing but not listening". I want to say it's something like 「見るといえども視ず、聞くといえども聴かず」, although I can't for the life of me find it right now. But maybe the first part could kind of be applicable.


I would say yes, but I'm not native. (><;


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