In honor of Respect for the Aged Day coming up on Monday, we explore the ultimate form of ageing: living forever. Combined with the bonus of staying young, this gives us furouchouju, a four-character idiom that represents an impossible desire that humans have coveted for eons. 

Furouchouju (不老長寿)

Meaning: Furouchouju expresses an ancient human desire: staying young forever. The compound means perennial youth and a long life, forever young, living forever and staying youthful, etc.

Literal translation and kanji breakdown: A simple literal translation gives us 不老 (non-/no old age) and 長寿 (long life). 

Furouchouju: The Origins

Furouchouju, along with its almost-twin furoufushi (不老不死, literally non-/no old age, non-/no death) can be traced back to Qin Dynasty China. While the concept itself in some form or another is likely as old as the existence of humanity, many people connect the desperate desire for immortality to Emperor Qin. He was so eager for eternal life that he put out an executive order to search for an elixir that would make him live forever. This was about 2,200 years ago and as far as we know, not only did the methods he tried not work, but they may in fact have brought upon him an untimely death.

As for Japan-related immortality, there’s an old myth that if you eat mermaid meat you will stay young forever. To all you seekers of eternal life, we wish you good luck on that one — but please proceed with caution and at your own discretion. 

Furouchouju: Similar Expressions

  • 命長ければ恥多し Inochi nagakereba haji ooshi To live long is to outlive much; the longer you live, the more shame you suffer, long life has long misery.
  • 命あっての物種  Inochi atte no monodane Where there is life, there is hope, don’t waste your life.
  • 生者必滅  Shoujahitsumetsu All living things must die.
  • 会者定離 Eshajouri Those who meet must part. A reference to the transience of life for those of us who are mere mortals.

Using “furouchouju” in a sentence

不老長寿の薬は数年以内に実現するかもしれないよ。Furouchouju no kusuri wa suunen inai ni jitsugen suru kamo shirenaiyo. A medicine/potion for eternal youth could be developed within a few years from now on. 

歳をとるのが怖い。できるもんなら、不老長寿になりたい。Toshi wo toru no ga kowai. Dekiru mon nara furouchouju ni naritai. I’m scared of getting old. If I could, I’d love to live eternally and never age. 

いや〜でも不老長寿になってもいいことばかりじゃないよ〜。暇でしょうがない!Iyaa, demo furouchouju ni nattemo ii koto bakari janaiyo. Hima de shoganai. Hey, living forever and never aging is not only good stuff. You’ll be so bored! 

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.