Ganbatte

“Ganbatte” is a word that, in Japanese, means “try your best”.  It seems to be a very frequently used word, particularly in competitive contexts, such as variety shows, etc.  But looking at the context in which it’s used, I don’t think it translates very well.  The reason is, as with many things, cultural.

In English, “Try your best” has a connotation of “Do the very best that you can, and it’s okay if you still fail”.  I mean, obviously you don’t want to fail, but English speakers tend to have a very laissez-faire approach to failure – it’s only not excusable if you deliberately slacked off or didn’t do your very best.

I don’t get that vibe when “ganbatte” (or maybe more often “ganbare”) is used in Japanese.  The context with that word seems far more driven – if you say “ganbarou” (I’ll try my best) there seems to be an undercurrent of “and then I will succeed”.  It seems like, the cultural assumption is in Japan, that if you try your best, you will succeed.  There is no such cultural assumption in English (or at least American English).  So, if you say “ganbarou”, and you fail, then it is seen as not trying your best.  We said we’d try our best, it seems to say, and we failed, so we didn’t.

This seems to underlie a seeming assumption in Japanese culture that it’s not okay to fail.

Perhaps we in America should hew just a bit more towards the Japanese idea of putting everything you have into something because failure is not an option.  And perhaps those in Japan should take a little of the pressure off by saying “it’s okay to fail” a bit more.  Perhaps, as with everything else, our cultures have something to learn from each other.

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