Updated: Sep 4
The concept of ganbaru holds a significant place in Japanese culture and is deeply established in the Japanese way of life. Ganbaru can be loosely translated as "doing one's best," "perseverance," or determination. It encompasses a strong work ethic, resilience, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. This article explores the essence of ganbaru and its multifaceted influence on various aspects of Japanese society.
The origin of ganbaru can be traced back to Japan's feudal era when the samurai code of bushido emphasized virtues like discipline, loyalty, and unwavering determination. These ideals permeated through generations, shaping the Japanese mindset towards perseverance and hard work. The post-war reconstruction period stands as a modern-day testament to the resilience of the Japanese people. In the face of widespread destruction, they worked tirelessly to rebuild their cities and infrastructure. This spirit of ganbaru has been carried forward to subsequent generations, inspiring them to confront and overcome challenges. Ganbaru extends beyond the samurai tradition and encompasses all aspects of Japanese life, including education, work, sports, and personal relationships.
The Japanese language is sometimes difficult to make a direct translation into English because the words often are more an expression of a feeling as denoted through various kanji.
Variations of ganbaru’s origin are explained below:
There are multiple ways to understand the meaning of Ganbaru/Ganbatte, and dissecting its kanji is one of the many ways.
頑 (がん) – stubborness, foolish, firmly
張る (はる) – sticking or stretching
Multiple meanings can be derived from Ganbaru’s kanji. Combine the two and you would understand that the simplest translation of ganbaru can be “to persevere”, or in other sense “stretching your stubbornness”. Another translation can be 'to be patient and do one's best'.
1. 眼張る GANHARU/GANBARU
There are multiple theories about the origin of ganbaru. The first theory revolves around the ancient word 眼張る (がんはる/がんばる). Some linguists believe that the modern ganbaru was derived from using 眼張る to mean "stare intently," and in time it was used in conjunction with 声を置 which means "achieving something by staying patient and trying something else." The first がん kanji is different even though the pronunciation is nearly the same as the modern ganbaru.
眼 (がん) – eye, eyeball
張る (はる) – to stretch, to spread, to strain, to tighten
In this theory, we use the term as “eye stretch”. Used during the 1700s it meant "to keep watch over someone/something." It is best explained as the feeling of opening your eyes widely, staring at something, and focusing your mind on it.
2. 我(に/を)張る GA(NI/O)HARU
Each region and prefecture in Japan had a distinctive method of pronouncing the term ganbaru long before the modern version of the word emerged. As a result, linguists proposed a second origin theory.
我 (が) – I, myself
張る (はる) – to stretch, to spread, to strain, to tighten
This kanji resulted from the concept of "holding onto one's ideas or feelings," and it is usually translated into "self-assertion" or "having one's own way."
The spirit of ganbaru is particularly evident in Japanese sports and martial arts. Athletes and practitioners devote themselves to rigorous training regimes, pushing their physical and mental limits to achieve excellence. The concept of "ganbare" (the imperative form of ganbaru) is often heard in sports arenas and serves as a rallying cry to encourage athletes to give their all, never giving up, and fighting until the end.
Ganbaru also plays a vital role in cultivating resilience during challenging times. It embodies the spirit of perseverance, resilience, and determination in times of adversity. This unwavering attitude has played a crucial role in Japan's response to various disasters throughout its history. From natural calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis to the aftermath of World War II, ganbaru has been instrumental in rebuilding communities and fostering collective strength. The concept of ganbaru encourages individuals and communities to come together, support one another, and rebuild their lives and communities with unwavering determination.
In the Japanese workplace, ganbaru is highly valued. Employees are expected to go above and beyond their assigned tasks, working long hours and prioritizing the collective goals of the organization. This work ethic is rooted in the belief that individual effort and dedication contribute to the overall success of the team or company. Ganbaru fosters a sense of responsibility, dedication, and a willingness to tackle difficult tasks, even in the face of adversity.
Moreover, ganbaru is deeply ingrained in the Japanese education system. Students are encouraged to be diligent and are expected to strive for academic excellence. This is evident in the long hours they dedicate to studying, attending cram schools, and participating in extracurricular activities. The emphasis on ganbaru not only instills a strong work ethic but also teaches students the value of perseverance in the face of challenges.
Ganbaru can be understood as a call to action, urging individuals to do their utmost best and not give up in the face of challenges. It encompasses the notions of persistence, patience, and endurance. It is a mindset that emphasizes personal responsibility and the belief that one's efforts can make a difference, not only for oneself but also for the community as a whole.
When using the word ganbaru, you imply an unwavering focus on the task at hand—that no matter what occurs, you maintain your convictions in the face of any challenges. That in order to attain your goals, you must "stretch" your current capabilities or step beyond your comfort zone.
Despite its serious-sounding connotation, the word "ganbaru/ganbatte" is frequently employed in informal contexts. This makes the phrase comparable to expressions like "good luck", "break a leg," and other casual, well-wisher idioms.
It is also important to consider the way you say ganbaru as it affects the meaning of the word when spoken.
It is a remarkable aspect of Japanese culture that emphasizes resilience, determination, and perseverance in the face of adversity. It has played a pivotal role in Japan's ability to recover and rebuild after disasters. The spirit of ganbaru is not just limited to individuals but also extends to organizations, businesses, and government institutions that work together to confront challenges head-on and work towards a better, more resilient future. It serves as a valuable lesson to the world, highlighting the power of perseverance in overcoming even the most daunting of circumstances.
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” - Japanese Proverb
Explore the deeper meaning behind the widely-recognized Japanese expression, "Ganbatte." Discover how it encompasses resilience, determination, and community support, making it a powerful mantra that inspires individuals to overcome challenges and achieve success in various aspects of life. Gain insights into the broader implications of "Ganbatte" and its potential to motivate and uplift people beyond cultural boundaries.
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