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Mr.Yoshihiko Noda was inaugurated as the 95th Prime Minister of Japan on August 30th by winning the race among five candidates for Japan’s ruling party--the JDP’s leader election.

The phrase he likened himself to was dojo (loach), with which he wrapped up his manifestation address:

I’m like a dojo. It’s no use for a dojo to behave like (or imitate) a goldfish.

This became suddenly a hot word among Japanese electorates, and it was even quoted in many overseas news media such as Washington Post, New York Times and Financial Times.

By saying I’m a dojo. It’s no use for a dojo to behave like a goldfish he meant he is determined to pursue for steady, realistic and actionable goals and implement down-to-earth policies rather than chasing after gaudy, dreamy, but unachievable goals (as his predecessors have done in the past two decades and all failed). He borrowed this line from a popular poet called Mitsuo Aida known for the lines of his zen-like poetry.

I wonder if there are any (or many) metaphors and popular lines in the English speaking countries that can be equated with the line, It’s no use for a dojo to behave like a goldfish. I would like to show off my trove of imported phrases to my English enthusiastic buddies.

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This is a really great expression. Perhaps we should adopt it into English. –  KitFox Sep 1 '11 at 11:38
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10 Answers

We can describe the pursuit of vain dreams as chasing rainbows. Thus, people are advised:

Don't go chasing rainbows.

and perhaps we can modify this to:

There's no use in chasing rainbows.

Of course, this expression lacks the beauty of Mitso Aida's.

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"The leopard cannot change his spots"

This is an idiom that references the Bible (Jeremiah 13:23) and that implies that a person cannot change the things that he or she does on account of his or her nature and habits any more than he of she can change his or her race, nor any more than an animal can change the characteristics of its species. It would seem apt to the circumstances.

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." — Jer. 13:23

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This isn't a formal idiom, but it does draw on a formal fable and a metaphor that is commonly utilized in English:

"There's no point in a country mouse putting on city mouse airs"

This might work as an acceptable substitute. It goes back to Aesop's fables, where the country mouse is a humble, diligent creature with a comfortable, largely peaceful life, while the city mouse is a dandified, lazy creature of many comforts, but who must also suffer considerable danger and terror to enjoy them.

The problem is that this sort of simile is very easy to construct in English, and so many people just do it on-the-fly. Idioms are usually phrases that succinctly describe ideas that are difficult to express otherwise, but casual metaphors like this are quite common in English.

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This sounds similar to the old Latin phrase "Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi," which translates to "what god can do, the ox cannot."

It's not English and I can't say I've ever heard it used during informal conversation with peers, but it exists and should be very familiar to anyone who has studied Latin.

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There's also

The leopard can't change its spots

(which is along the lines of "It's no use trying to change who I am")

and, more derogatory,

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

("You can't make a high-quality item using shoddy materials")

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Keep your feet on the ground (and your head out of the sky).

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I like this one –  simchona Sep 1 '11 at 8:09
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I’d like to let you know that ‘I’m dojo” became a buzz word in Japan in a week. After the word televised in TV news and shows, there came a sudden flood of Dojo brand commodities such as “Dojo cakes,” “Dojo sake,” “Dojo T-shirts.” People rush to Dojo-serving restaurants, and Dojo-dance festivals scheduled in many cities known as the dojo-breeding center. I was amazed to find a casual word uttered by a reserved statesman like “I'm dojo” caused such a fever. It seems “Dojo” is working better than “Change” slogan that JDP hoisted in 2009 national election in imitating President Obama’s slogan. –  Yoichi Oishi Sep 1 '11 at 23:58
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There is also "you can't teach an old dog new tricks".

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I don't think this matches the context--to me, this implies that you can't change someone's habits –  simchona Sep 1 '11 at 7:59
    
The idea would be that Mr. Noda observes that he cannot change his own habits, and accordingly will do as he's always done. Granted, this doesn't say anything about that behaviour... –  Karl Knechtel Sep 1 '11 at 8:01
    
I see what you're getting at. –  simchona Sep 1 '11 at 8:03
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Would a quote do? Here's what Bono said:

I'm tired of dreaming. I'm into doing at the moment. It's, like, let's only have goals that we can go after.

That seems pretty like what Japan's new president said.

Perhaps, you could try the famous words of Winston Churchill:

Blood, toil, sweat, and tears

This phrase is used to mean that the person is or is going to, do some real hard work, and achieve a goal.

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I interpret “I’m a dojo. It’s no use for a dojo to behave like a goldfish.” as saying that "I know my limits. It's no use trying to be something other than what I am."

In that sense it's self-deprecating, but if you wanted to use it for something or someone else — it's no use trying to make something appear better than it is — then there's the recently famous

"It's no use putting lipstick on a pig."

(It's still a pig.) Be careful: this is usually dismissive and derogatory.

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@ShreevatsaR.Though the phrase sounds like self-humiliating on the surface, if I paraphrase what “I’m dojo” means “ I don’t need to imitate a gorgeous peacock (here likened as goldfish) that's only for pleasing your eyes, I want to be a modest but productive hen that delivers eggs to your kitchen every morning.” –  Yoichi Oishi Sep 1 '11 at 8:58
    
@Yoichi: that's a great metaphor, and one that's much more likely to be understood in English. –  Peter Shor Sep 1 '11 at 13:40
    
There is the story of the goose and a golden egg, but I suppose that is more like "can't have your cake and eat it too" –  horatio Sep 1 '11 at 14:11
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Not really a metaphor, but "Slow and steady wins the race" has kind of a similar connotation.

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For the benefit of the OP, it should be noted that this is the moral of one of Aesop's Fables, "The Tortoise and the Hare", in case he would like to read more about it. –  matthias Sep 1 '11 at 22:16
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