We left Japan for good this morning and I am writing this whilst waiting for my corona test results at the Hong Kong expo centre. At least for now, this will be my last post for the Tokyo archive.
I’ve enjoyed recalling and writing about some of the small things that made my time in Japan so special. For my final post I decided to write about a Japanese phrase that has accompanied me from the beginning: Ganbatte! (頑張って!). You’d usually hear this phrase together with a friendly ne at the end (ganbatte ne) or a slightly more formal and polite ganbatte kudasai. During sporting events, you’d hear supporters shout a more assertive ganbare!
But what does this phrase mean? The dictionary translates it as Do your best, which makes sense when it is used to cheer on people or to give encouragement to someone who will go through a challenging or strenuous situation. It is being used in so many more situations though (for example to a mother who is dealing with her toddler having a tantrum or for someone learning a difficult subject – I can’t count how many times I was told ganbatte during my Japanese studies…) When I took a moment to really think about the translation Do your best, I realised that the much better suited translation into English (or German in my case) would be Good luck! – a completely different meaning. To me it shows perfectly how Japanese culture differs so much from the Western culture that I know. In Japan I never heard anyone saying Good luck to me, is there even a phrase for it? I have to admit that I haven’t done proper research on this subject and I am basing this solely on my experience of having lived in Japan for some time. These are just my thoughts but for me the phrase ganbatte makes me wonder whether the Japanese do believe in situations being solved by sheer luck? I feel the believe is that a positive outcome of a situation lies entirely in your own hands. Do your best and you will succeed. Thinking about it, ganbatte is much more motivating than a casual Good luck and has helped me to get through difficult situations during my time in Japan.
For my new chapter here in Hong Kong I hope this phrase (and thus the Japanese way of thinking) will stick with me to help me get through the challenge of starting afresh.