Before I start today's post, I just wanted to say that yes, the title of these sections should really be "諺 Break." 諺(ことわざ:kotowaza), meaning proverb, is really the most apt description of everything we've ever posted under this headings with the notable exception of 怪我の功名. 表現 as it works in Japanese, is probably better used to describe things like 「あっと言う間に」 or 「顔が真っ白」, but I'm going to stick with the headings as is because, well, I'm stubborn, as far as I'm concerned proverbs are kinds of expressions, and because maybe one day we'll explain what those sample 表現 mean.
That out of the way, today's 諺 is a great way to talk about people like me, who get caught up in details like slight errors in the heading of the blog, and let it distract them from the bigger picture:
灯台 is a lighthouse, and with the addition of 下、it becomes "the foot of the lighthouse." The literal translation of this expression then, is "the darkness at the foot of the lighthouse."
Originally, I was told that this proverb expresses that the light is always darkest at the foot of a lighthouse, which my native English brain immediately linked with "the light is always darkest before the dawn."
Of course, this doesn't make much sense, because if you're a person at the foot of a lighthouse, it matters neither that it's dark nor that the light from said lighthouse shines above you. You probably don't need that light. And if you're a ship at the foot of a lighthouse, well, you (and the lighthouse) are pretty much screwed.
So before we get too far down the wrong path, think about what it would mean if you were staring at the ground in the dark, failing to look up and see the light for a better idea of the gist of 灯台下暗し。
1. Can't see the forest for the trees.
2. Can't comprehend something that's right in front of you.
3. It actually becomes more difficult to understand something, the closer you get to it.
Rikai-chan provides translation number 1, above, and though I am indebted to Rikai-chan for it's awesomeness, I think I'm going to have to take issue with this interpretation. For me, saying that someone "can't see the forest for the trees," means that someone is so caught up in details that they miss the big picture. It carries a portion of blame with it. After all, it's not the forest's fault that someone surrounded by trees fails to recognize a forest. 灯台下暗し is not so much about admonishing someone for their failures, it's more about the intrinsic nature of relationships, closeness, and lighthouses.
It's almost koan-like in its paradoxical assertion. The closer you get to something, the more obscure it gets.
You can use 灯台下暗し in a variety of ways, and you can even try linking it to other concepts, like 上の空, which I first heard it in connection with. I was told that a person caught up in the middle of an important event, but is 上の空で構わないことに浸ってぼうっとしている, might also be described with 灯台下暗し。
Here are some examples:
My relationship with my aunt is somehow more distant, for being so close.
It's not a "forest for the trees" situation, but they're so used to being too close to each other that they don't recognize it's love.
Before, I had a clear vision of the kind of business I wanted to run. Ever since I opened my shop, though, it's like I can't get a grip on anything. I'm being beaten down by the day to day chores, and can't make any progress at all.