“Ganbatte” - More than Just a Popular Japanese Expression

The hospitality of the Japanese community is undeniably one of the key elements that make any trip a pleasant experience for all foreign travelers, regardless of them being first-time or frequent visitors of the country. Some common greetings one would receive from the locals include “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.” and “Hajimemashite yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”, which mean something along the lines of “It is a pleasure to meet you” and “Pleased to meet you, I hope you are doing fine.”

There are plenty more polite phrases for tourists to hear throughout their stay in Japan. All of which represent the attitude and spirit of the Japanese society. Japan’s language and writing system is a complex world that ingeniously incorporates various morals and doctrines into its seemingly simple, day-to-day terms.

For example, common words and expressions such as “arigatou” (thank you) and “konnichiwa” (hello) actually stem from lengthier sentences that clearly explain one’s gratitude and concern. These two provide an overview of how the community gives much importance to humility and kindliness, which are prominent characteristics of the Japanese that everybody should think about practicing on a daily basis, as well.

However, what stands to be the most interesting and serves to be the best representation of the Japanese spirit is the expression “ganbatte”, which is basically used to encourage another person to do their best.

An Overview of “Ganbatte” / “Ganbatte ne” / “Ganbatte yo” – Its Definition/Meaning and How to Write it in Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana

The Japanese word, “ganbatte” can be translated to mean “Do your best” in English. It is among the most common expressions a tourist can hear from the locals and somewhat explains their view on perseverance and determination.

“Ganbatte” can be written in three different ways using kanji, hiragana, or katakana – the three writing systems of the Japanese language. Kanji serves as the major alphabet and consists of more than eight thousand Chinese ideograms, while hiragana and katakana serve as syllabic alphabets, each made out of 47 characters that represent different sounds.

A single kanji character can have multiple meanings and pronunciations. As such, hiragana is sometimes used with kanji to indicate the correct idea. In this case, the hiragana characters are referred to as furigana and are placed above kanji characters.

The term “ganbatte” serves as the conjunctive form of the verb “ganbaru”, which is composed of the characters 頑 (gan) and 張る (haru) that mean “tough/stubborn” and “to be prominent”, respectively. When combined, the two characters make up the concept of working hard or unrelentingly striving to achieve a certain goal.

For situations that require encouragement and support, “ganbatte” is often used as an expression to say “good luck”, “do not give up”, “do your best”, “hang in there”, or “keep going” to another person. It can be written in kanji as 頑張って, in hiragana as がんばって, or in katakana as ガンバッテ.

It may also be said as “ganbatte ne”( 頑張ってね) or “ganbatte yo” (頑張ってよ) for more emphasis about overcoming the task at hand.

The Ganbatte Spirit of the Japanese Community

“Ganbatte”, along with its many variations, is a word dearly loved by the Japanese community. Its essence revolves around the concept of never giving up no matter how hard the challenges may be. This general idea of perseverance is ingrained in almost every individual in Japan practically from the day they are born and lives within them until their last breath.

At a young age, Japanese children are exposed to the concept of “ganbatte” through different matters including completing homework, falling out of friendship with another kid, tripping in the park, and even the simple challenge of eating something they do not want to.

Later on, in middle school and high school, “ganbatte” continues to be said by and to each other as a form of encouragement. Some common situations where students use this expression include taking an exam, breaking up with or pursuing a boyfriend or girlfriend, and participating in December school championships. As adults, “ganbatte” is frequently used when attending meetings, going to work, or overcoming a cold.

Almost any scenario that is short of being perfect is faced head on by the Japanese community with a “ganbatte” spirit. Although the expression may be commonly said and used, it serves as an effective form of encouragement, especially in times of great hardship. The expression reminds each individual that the true obstacle lies in how he trusts his own abilities.

Different Ways to Use “Ganbatte” - Ganbatte Kudasai, Ganbare, and More

On its own, “ganbatte” effectively serves as an encouraging reminder to keep going until a certain goal is reached or attained. It can also be said in other ways as a response or to imply a clearer sense of determination. Some of the most common variations of “ganbatte” and “ganbaru” that tourists may find useful.

Ganbatte Kudasai (頑張ってください) – Please do the best you can / Please do your best

The addition of the Japanese word “kudasai”, which means “please (as a form of requesting)” in English, gives the expression “ganbatte” a more formal and polite tone. As such, using “ganbatte kudasai” (Please do your best) may be more suitable for business settings.

Ganbarimasu (頑張ります) – I will do my best

Compared to “ganbatte” and “ganbaru”, the expression “ganbarimasu” is a bit different in the sense that it can be directed to oneself. It means “I will do my best” in English and is often used as a reply to “ganbatte”.

Ganbare (頑張れ) / Ganbari nasai (頑張りなさい) – Do your best

“Ganbare” is best described to be a command instead of an encouraging statement. It serves as the imperative form of the verb “ganbaru” and carries a less polite tone, given its forceful sense of the concept. A person may use this to motivate a subordinate or an equal but never to a superior.

A more demanding and pleading variation of “ganbare” is “ganbari nasai”, which is often used when stakes are higher.

Ganbatta (頑張った) / Ganbarimashita (頑張りました) – I did my best

After completing a challenging task or overcoming a difficult time, a person can use “ganbatta” to say “I did my best” to close friends or family. For a more formal and polite tone, a person should use “ganbarimashita”, instead.

Ganbareru (頑張れる) / Ganbaremasu (頑張れます) – I can do my best

“Ganbareru” and “ganbaremasu” can be roughly translated to mean “I can do my best” and “I am able to do my best” in English. Unlike “ganbarimasu”, which directly states that a person will do the best he can, these two expressions imply that certain circumstances may hinder him from giving his all.

Saying either of these phrases signifies a person’s perseverance to complete the task at hand by working through the obstacles as well as possible. Out of the two, “ganbareru” serves as the informal variation.

Ganbatte iru (頑張って いる) / Ganbatte imasu (頑張っています) – I am doing the best 

During the course of struggling through a certain situation or problem, the phrase “ganbatte iru” can be used by an individual to state that he is currently doing his best to overcome the difficulties. “Ganbatte imasu” serves as a politer version of “ganbatte iru”.

Ganbaritai (頑張りたい) – I want to do the best

“Ganbaritai” is often used when a person is having doubts about whether or not he will be able to do his best for a particular situation. The phrase implies that he wants to try his hardest but it may not be possible because of certain circumstances.

Ganbatte ita (頑張っていた) / Ganbatte imashita (頑張って いました) – I was doing the best

If a person wants to site a past situation to use as a reference about his performance, the phrases “ganbatte ita” and “ganbatte imashita” may be stated to indicate that he did his best throughout the entire task. “Ganbatte imashita” serves as the more formal version of the two.

Ganbaranakatta (頑張らなかった) – I was not able to do the best

For a person who wants to state that he was not able to or did not do his best, “ganbaranakatta” serves as an effective phrase that shows a sense of humility. It is considered to be one of the most appropriate ways of not putting the blame on anyone else but oneself.

Ganbatte kure (頑張ってくれ) – Do the best that you can for me

The usage of the phrase “ganbatte kure” lies somewhere between being a form of encouragement and a command. Its meaning in English says something similar to “do your best for me” and is frequently used by mentors, teachers, ancestors, and other seniors.

Ganbattaro daro (頑張っただろう) / Ganbatta desho (頑張ったでしょう) – You probably did the best you could

When discussing if a person did his best or not, the phrase “ganbattaro daro” may be used to say that he most probably did. In formal settings or if a politer tone is desired, a more suitable phrase to use would be “ganbatta desho”.

Ganbareba (頑張れば) – If you do your best

For cases where a person wants to provide another person with different scenarios if he does his best, “ganbareba” serves as an effective provisional conditional phrase. Its negative counterpart is “ganbaranakereba”, written as 頑張らなければ, which can be translated to mean “If you do not do the best you can”.

Equivalent Japanese Terms and Expressions of “Ganbatte”

Aside from “ganbatte”, there are also other words of encouragement used in Japan that do not stray far from the concept of doing one’s best. 

Faito (ファイト) – More power to you

“Faito”, literally “fight” in English, is often used by the Japanese community to encourage their close friends or family to overcome whatever it is they are struggling with. It is appropriate for casual settings and often provides the person being addressed with a much-needed jolt of strength.

Oen shite iru (応援している) / Oen shi teru yo (応援してるよ) / Oen  shite imasu ( 応援しています)  – I am here to support / cheer for you

The Japanese word “oen” can be roughly translated to mean “to cheer” or “to support”. It can be used in different ways to let a person know that he is being cheered for. Between friends or for informal settings, “oen shite iru” and “oen shi teru yo” may be used, while “oen shite imasu” serves as a politer variation.

Ike (行く) – Go

For sporting events or school races, the expression “ike” is pretty common and serves as the equivalent of the English word “go”.

Genki dashite (元気出して) / Genki dashite kudasai (元気出してください) – Keep your chin up

In the case that a person seems to be depressed, disappointed, or sad, an appropriate phrase to say would be “genki dashite” or “genki dashite kudasai”. Saying either phrase does not ask the person to do his best but, instead, encourages him to keep his spirits up and remain cheerful. “Genki dashite kudasai” is the more formal version of the two.

Anshin shite kudasai (安心してください) – Please do not worry

The English translation for “Anshin” is “relief”. It can be used to create thoughtful phrases to help ease another person’s mind. The most common and polite way to use it would be “anshin shite kudasai”, which is an effective sentence one can use to remind somebody to stop worrying about a certain situation.

Equivalent Terms and Expressions of “Ganbatte” Outside of Japan

Outside of Japan, many other terms and expressions that mean the same as “ganbatte” exist. A lot of these phrases are used in different countries to push other people to do the best they can.

America – Come on / You can do it

The English language has a lot of equivalent phrases for “ganbatte”, but some of the most popular and casual ones are “come on” and “you can do it”. Of course, the translation for “ganbatte” may also be used. However, the idiom “break a leg” is more frequently stated as a means to tell someone “good luck” or “give it your best shot”.

Korea – Paiting / Hwaiting / Aja aja

Similar to the Japanese expression “faito”, which comes from the English word, “fight”, Korea has its own forms of encouragement/support based on the same word – “paiting” or “hwaiting”. The Korean community often makes use of these expressions during sports, exams, or unpleasant circumstances. Both expressions also serve as a way to tell a person to let go of his doubts and find some strength within himself.

In addition, “paiting” or “hwaiting” is often said with the expression “aja aja”, which is another form of encouragement that can be translated to mean “keep going” in English.

China – Jiayou

“Jiayou” is an interesting expression used in China to encourage other people to not give up. Its literal English translation is “to add oil to a machine”, which serves as an idiom that encourages one to be more powerful and persistent.

When used, the expression means something similar to “give it more effort”, “you must persist”, and “do not give up”.