Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Japanese Phrases: Ganbatte!

When someone goes in for a job interview or is going to perform in a play, sporting event, or something like that we tend to wish them "good luck." The idea is that we want them to do well, and so we wish them luck in their endeavor. However, in Japan in the same situation you would tell the person "Ganbatte" (or "Ganbattekudasai" if you wanted to be more polite, but that may also be awkward westerner Japanese.)

Pronunciation: gone - bot - tay (like day w/ a t instead of the d)

Ganbatte is the "command" form of Ganbaru, a word that essentially means to "work hard." A more "dictionary" definition from gives Ganbaru the following meanings:

  1. to persevere; to persist; to keep at it; to hang on; to hold out; to do one's best
  2. to insist that; to stick to (one's opinions)
  3. to remain in one's place; to refuse to budge; to stick to one's post
One of the tricks I used when studying Japanese was to think of the English translation not as the specific word definition of something, but rather as the concept behind the word. As such, Ganbaru is not the literal meaning of "to persevere" but rather the concept of perseverance, persistance, doing one's best, and not giving up.

I find I like this word, ganbatte/ganbaru, a lot more than the common English well wishing of luck because of what it means. When you wish someone luck you wish for a fortuitous event out of their control to happen that enables them to do well. When you tell someone "Ganbatte" you are telling them to do everything they can and not to give up. I like the idea of encouraging the person to do well rather than appeasing to some higher power for luck.


Because luck runs out. The saying goes that it is better to be lucky than good, but luck is a short term affair. Every long term poker player knows that good luck and bad luck will happen, but in the long run skill wins out over time. Luck will give someone short term success, perseverance and stick-to-itness will give them long term progress.

I also find that Ganbatte is just more applicable. How does one have 'luck' during a play? (and yes, I know technically you say "break a leg" for actors) or during a skill contest where randomness isn't a factor? Ganbatte on the other hand is a reminder and a rallying cry to not give up.

So in the end which would you rather have in your head when the chips are down and everything is going topsy turvy? That some power beyond your control is deciding everything, or that you just need to hold out and weather the storm to come out ok?

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