TOPCultureWeekly Japanese Idiom: “Yujufudan” — Indecisive

Weekly Japanese Idiom: “Yujufudan” — Indecisive

This week’s yojijukugo can’t make up its mind

By Lisa Wallin

Do you struggle to figure out what to have for lunch every day, or do you know exactly what you want days in advance? If you’re the former, you may have a yujufudan personality trait and have trouble making decisions, big or small.

Yujufudan (優柔不断)

Meaning: dithering, indecisive, irresolute, shillyshally, wishy-washy, wavering

Literal translation and kanji breakdown: Breaking the idiom down into individual kanji characters, we get yu (優; tenderness), (柔; softness, weakness), (不; non-) and dan (断; decision) . The two-character compound yuju (優柔) translates to indecisive or irresolute, but still has a nuance of gentleness and positivity to it. The addition of fudan (不断) — constant or incessant — negates any potential positive meaning to it. It transforms it from charming quirk to a never-ending issue. 

Yujufudan: The Origins

Yujufudan can be traced back to the Book of Han, a Chinese history tome completed in 111 AD. Ban Gu, an Eastern Han court official, completed it together with his sister Ban Zhao. The expression yujufudan appears in relation to Emperor Yuan of Han (75 BC – 33BC), who had great potential and created social assistance programs for both the poor and beginner entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, his indecisiveness about other things aided the decline of the empire. Also, his subordinates were locked in power struggles and he placed his trust in corrupt officials, furthering the empire’s deterioration.

Yujufudan: Related Expressions

意志薄弱 Ishi-hakujaku Weak-willed, lacking a purpose or patience

薄志弱行 Hakushi-jakko Lacking purpose and decision-making skills

右顧左眄 Ukosaben Inability to make decisions for fear of what others may think, wavering, hesitation

首鼠両端 Shuso-ryoutan Sitting on the fence, unable to make one’s mind up

朝令暮改 Chourei-bokai An unsettled course of action

Using “Yujufudan” in a Sentence

This is an extensively used idiom to describe indecisiveness as a personality trait. It’s so common that if you do a quick Google search, there will be dozens of pages offering advice on how to resolve this personal flaw, or how to word it to sound less negative. (For the latter, use 用心深い (youjin bukai; cautious or prudent) or 慎重 (shincho; careful but deliberate) instead.)

優柔不断な性格なので、レストランで昼ごはんを決めるのに10分以上かかる。Yujufudan na seikaku nanode, resutoran de hirugohan wo kimeru no ni juppun ijou kakaru. Because of my constant indecisiveness, it takes me over 10 minutes to decide on a restaurant to go to for lunch.

優柔不断な性格で、いつも迷ってばかりだ。Yujufudan na seikaku de, itsumo mayotte bakari da. With my indecisive personality, I’m always in a quandary. 

マンションの購入を考えていたが、優柔不断な性格のせいで欲しい物件を逃した。Mansion no kounyu wo kangaeita ga, yujufudan na seikaku no sei de hoshii bukken wo nogashita. I was thinking about buy an apartment, but because of my indecisive nature, the property I wanted was taken.


Want more? Follow our weekly Yojijukugo Japanese Idiom series, published every Friday. Learn the meaning of “chinpunkanpun” here, “yudan taiteki” here and “taifu-ikka” here.