四字熟語 Life

The main four character compounds (jukugo) on the theme of making your way through life.

The list is arranged according to the number of Japanese Google hits (marked G; in thousands), providing a very rough guide to current levels of usage. A number of jukugo are not very IME friendly, in other words they can be somewhat difficult to type in, which perhaps results in lower instances on internet than might otherwise be the case. Even so, the top ten or so compounds return such a higher number of hits than the others that I'm pretty confident they at least are worth learning.

Some of the readings are quite difficult, so I have blanked out the kana in order to test myself. Simply double-click between the brackets if you want to check the readings for yourself.

悠々自適 "Lead a leisurely life"
ゆうゆうじてき】 G:638

Cut yourself off from the world and live as you please.

弱肉強食 "The strong prey on the weak"
じゃくにくきょうしょく】 G:627

晴耕雨読 "Work in the field in fine weather and stay at home reading when it is wet
せいこううどく】 G:614

諸行無常 "All things must pass"
しょぎょうむじょう】 G:614

】 G:515
Elements: Extravagant + Devoted

贅沢 is a very common word and only poses a problem when it comes to remembering how to write the first character. 三昧 is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word samadhi; a state of concentration achieved through intense meditation. It can be found in Buddhist writing as in the following example: 念仏三昧の生活を送る (lead a life devoted to praying to the Buddha). It is possible to attach it to other nouns such as 読書三昧 (absorbed in reading), or 自由三昧(な) (do as you please); but I think its use is limited.

贅沢三昧 would appear to be seen most as a noun modifier, with a tendency towards travel and food. Common examples are ・・・の旅, ・・・のコース, ・・・の料理, ・・・の日々, 昼の・・・, 高級の・・・

共存共栄 "Co-existence and co-prosperity"
きょうぞんきょうえい】 G:436

前途多難 "Many difficulties lie in store"
ぜんとたなん】 G:379

な adjective

因果応報 "Karma - what goes around comes around"
いんがおうほう】 G:367

栄枯盛衰 "Ups and downs of life"
えいこうせいすい】 G:320

用意周到 "Meticulous in everything"
よういしゅうとう】 G:269

な adjective

一世一代 "Once in a lifetime" いっせいいちだい G:224
自然淘汰 "Natural Selection"しぜんとうた】 G:219
212 先手必勝 せんてひっしょう】 Victory goes to the one who makes the first move
210 天涯孤独 てんがいこどく】 Being all alone in the world
188 良妻賢母 りょうさいけんぼ】 A good wife and a wise mother
183 立身出世 りっしんしゅっせ】 Success in life
172 行雲流水 こううんりゅうすい】 Go with the tide / Take life as it comes
161 前途洋洋 ぜんとようよう】 Great prospects ahead
135 頑固一徹 がんこいってつ】 Stubborn
122 盛者必衰 じょうしゃひっすい】 All who prosper must decline
109 金科玉条 きんかぎょくじょう】 Golden rule

99 海千山千 【うみせんやません】 Hard-bitten

84 滅私奉公 
めっしほうこう】 Selfless devotion
85 小人閑居 しょうじんかんきょ】 Small minds left idle make mischief
77 一陽来復 【いちようらいふく】 Favourable turn of fortune
73 和魂洋才 
わこんようさい】 Japanese spirit with Western learning
63 夢幻泡影 むげんほうよう】 An illusion
62 敬天愛人 けいてんあいじん】 "Revere heaven, love people" (motto of Saigo Takamori, 1827-1877)
58 適者生存 てきしゃせいぞん】 Survival of the fittest
56 優勝劣敗 ゆうしょうれっぱい】 Survival of the fittest
52 天網恢恢 てんもうかいかい】 Heaven's vengeance is slow but sure
51 出処進退 しゅっしょしんたい】 Intentions for the future
49 酔生夢死 すいせいむし】 Idling your life away

47 知行合一
ちこうごういつKnowledge must be accompanied by action, and action must be based on knowledge (Chinese philosopher Wang Yang-mig, 1472-1529)
44 岡目八目 【おかめはちもく】 An outsider's better grasp of the situation
36 生々流転 せいせいるてん】 The constant birth, growth, and change of all things under the sun
36 有為転変 【ういてんぺん】 Shifts and changes of human life
34 一竿風月 【いっかんふうげつ】 Forget worldly affairs

28 無為徒食 むいとしょく】 Idling your life away
21 則天去私 そくてんきょし】 Give yourself to the providence of nature (Natsume Soseki towards the end of his life, 1867-1916)
21 多事多難 たじたなん】 Suffering one hardship after another
21 悪事千里 【あくじせんり】 Bad news travels fast

19 会者定離 【えしゃじょうり】 We meet only to part

18 和光同塵 わこうどうじん】 Mingling with the world by hiding one's true talent or knowledge (Lao-tzu
17 生者必滅 しょうじゃひつめつ】 All living things must die
16 閑雲野鶴 かんうんやかく】 Life in a natural setting / Free from worldly cares
15 一視同仁 【いっしどうじん】 Love every human being with impartiality
12 運否天賦 【うんぷてんぷ】 Trust to chance
11 天罰覿面 てんばつてきめん】 Swift is Heaven's vengeance
10 阿諛追従 【あゆついしょう】 Excessive flattery