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Japanese Gambaru – Literal Meaning and Cultural Impact
The word Gambaru in Japanese it means to do your best and stay to the bitter end. This means that gambaru students study hard to pass exams, gambaru athletes practice hard to win games, and gambaru company workers work hard to increase sales. It also means to work hard or patiently, to insist on having one’s way and to take a place and never leave, as in relation to working at a job or workplace. Gambaru is also rooted in the following proverb: “The monk who does not work should not eat”.
There is an imperative form of “gambaru, which is Gambare or Gambette. The imperative term implies high achievement, motivation and orientation towards group harmony. The term is also used among members to encourage others in group activity.
The Japanese use the term gambare quite often and for various reasons. They usually use the term at least once a day with goodbyes and also at the end of a letter. The Japanese also use this expression to encourage each other with the implication “Please continue your hard work until your goal is achieved.”
The term is also used in many situations as a form of expression. The Japanese may use the expression in the initial states of a project. For example:
a) After the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, the slogan Gambare Kobe was used to encourage the people of Kobe to rebuild their city and rebuild their lives.
b) The Japanese also use the expression between group members to encourage each other in cooperative activities. For example, during track days at school, children can be heard shouting “gambare” or “gambatte” to encourage their friends in the race.
c) The Japanese also use the expression as spectators to cheer on their team. For example, at the 1998 World Cup soccer match held in France, Japanese spectators chanted the slogan Gambare Nippon! During the championship, the slogan was used daily in television programs and advertisements.
The literal meaning of gambaru is “to stick to something tenaciously”. It is a very popular term used when encouraging someone to undertake a very difficult task. Additional meanings are: Hang in there, don’t give up, do your best, AND Give it your all! The term also means hard work and patience. Moreover, it encourages enthusiasm and hard work from others.
Gamburu also has several additional meanings, some of which can be considered negative connotations. Based on the denotative form of the word, it also means “to insist on having one’s ways” and “to take a place and never leave.” Moreover, the word is derived from ga-o-haru, which means “to be willing.” This expression originally had a negative connotation of asserting oneself against the decisions and norms of the group.
One might ask whether other languages have the equivalent of gambar. According to Amanuma (1987, pp. 51-53), gambari, derived from gambaru, has no exact equivalent in non-Japanese languages. In addition, Amanuma says, “Although the Chinese and Koreans have the characters that make up gambaru (gambari is derived from gambaru), they do not have expressions that possess the same nuances. This suggests that gambaru is an expression that is unique to Japan and expresses certain qualities of Japanese character.
There are various proverbs that can show a difference between Japanese culture and American culture as it relates to the virtues of Gambaru. A proverb based on Japanese culture says, “The monk who does not work should not eat.” This speaks of the fact that man must work and that through work he can live. The Japanese did not consider play or leisure in this proverb, unlike America in the following proverb.
Otherwise, an American proverb says, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This means that one should not work, but rest and play. It places play and work in the same category and on the same level as virtue. The play telling in this proverb gives the Japanese a sense of uneasiness about the virtues of Gambaru in American terms.
© Joseph S. Spence, Sr., 8/16/09
© All rights reserved
Posted by “Epulaeryu Master.”
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