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How to Say “Good Luck!” in Japanese: a TRICKY question!

How to Say “Good Luck!” in Japanese: a TRICKY question!
How do you say “Good Luck” in Japanese? Well, you can, but you don’t. If that doesn’t make sense, stick around as I explain in depth all the details behind this difficult to translate phrase.

Difficult? Really? For any English speaker, this probably seems as improbable as it does absurd. It’s such a common, almost ubiquitous, phrase in English that it seems really strange that there’s no true equivalent in some languages.

Well, when it comes to Japanese, you’ll discover that there are many things that can’t be translated easily between them (try to translate “yoroshiku” to English—I’ll wait).

Still, we can make some generalizations to cover you in most situations. Let’s start simple.

Good Luck in Japanese Pin
 

How do you say “good luck” in Japanese?

The noun, “good luck,” can be translated as 幸運 (ko-un). The literal, but very uncommon way to wish someone “Good luck!” would be 幸運を祈る (ko-un o inoru). The natural way would either be 頑張って (ganbatte), which carries a sense of “do your best!” or you can say, 気をつけて (ki o tsukete) which carries the sense of “be careful.”
 

“Good Luck” the noun

“Good luck” as a noun can be easily translated as 幸運, which is written phonetically as こううん and pronounced ko-un.

The first character in this word is 幸, which is written in hiragana as こう and pronounced “ko.” This one character means happiness, or blessing, or fortune. The second character is 運, written as うん and pronounced “un.” This character carries the sense of, well, “carry.” Also, “fate,” “progress,” “transport,” and “destiny.”

So, together these give us the meaning of “progressing fortune.” Sounds like good luck to me!

Let’s see how you might use it in a sentence with two examples:

 

良いベビーシッターが見つけられて幸運だった。
Yoi-bebiishittaa ga mitsukerarete koun datta.
I was lucky that I was able to find a good babysitter.

彼女は隣の人の幸運を妬んでいた。
Kanojo wa tonari-no-hito-koun wo netandeita.
She was jealous of her neighbor’s good fortune.

 

Using koun in a sentence

If we wanted to wish “koun” on someone, we might say it as:

 

幸運を祈る
koun o inoru
I wish you good luck.

 

祈る can also be written as いのる and is pronounced inoru. This word means “to pray” or “to wish.” Of course, if you wanted to use this, you’d need to be aware of the need to conjugate the る at the end.

All that said, this expression isn’t used very frequently, and would be more common to very, very literally wish good luck upon someone, rather than in the causal way “good luck” is used most commonly in English.
 

Good luck, the Japanese way

Alright, that’s enough beating around the bush! So far, we’ve made it clear that there’s no perfect way to express “good luck” in Japanese.

The literal expression just doesn’t have the same feeling as in English. But surely Japanese people still like to wish each other well, right? So, what phrase or phrases best captures the same motivation?

The first, and most common, answer is 頑張って, pronounced ganbatte. This is a conjugation of 頑張る (ganbaru), the base form, but we’ll get into the conjugations and their nuances a little further on.

Ganbaru literally means to persevere or persist. That said, it gets used in a sense that we wouldn’t use the word “persevere” in English. Don’t worry, we’re gonna lay out what all that means in the rest of this article.

Ganbatte is your everyday, casual expression that roughly conveys the feeling of “good luck!” In reality, it’s closer to “do your best,” or “go gettem!” but the motivation and feeling is similar to “good luck.”
 

Ganbatte in detail

Let’s take a quick look at the kanji (Chinese characters) that make up the word “ganbaru.”

The first is 頑 (gan), meaning something like “stubborn.” The kanji itself is made up of 元 and 頁, which mean “origin” and “page” respectively.

While I could find no sources on the etymological origin of this kanji, perhaps we can imagine the original page of history being conservative, stuck in the past—in a word, stubborn.

The second kanji is 張 (ha—it becomes ba when combined with gan due to a phonetic shift called rendaku), which means “lengthen” or “stretch.” This one is made up of 弓 and長 which mean “bow” and “long/leader” respectively.

This makes a lot of sense, as we pull on a bow to lengthen it—you can almost picture it. That said, in the original Chinese only the 弓 part of the character carried semantic meaning.

All this is interesting, of course, but the reality is that it has nothing to do with the origins of the word! 頑張る is an example of ateji, which is when characters are chosen for their sound, not for their meaning.

It’s just a bit of luck that the kanji chosen also seem to help us remember the word.
 

Origins of Ganbaru

There’s two leading theories on where this word comes from. The first is that it came from 眼張 which was pronounced the same way, but meant, more or less, “to keep your eye on something.”

How the sense shifted from “keep watch” to “keep going!” is a bit uncertain, but it seems that sometime in the 18th century the meaning shifted.

The second origin story comes from the archaic phrase 我に張る. Here we have 我 pronounced as ga and meaning “I” and 張る pronounced haru and just meaning to stretch, as above.

This phrase meant “to be self-assertive and have your own way.” Eventually, ganiharu became ganbaru and the sense of the word solidified into “persevere.”

Either way, the word started out with a bit of a negative connotation, implying “stubbornness,” or “obstinacy.” However, since the Edo period, and right up until today, it carries a positive sense of perseverance and endurance.
 

All the different 頑張’s

If you want to tell someone “good luck” with the sense of “good luck, you can do it!” you’ve got four different version to choose from.
Note: Each of these can mean “Good luck,” “Give it a try,” or “Do your best,” depending on context.

 

頑張って
ganbatte
– This is the standard form. Pretty safe in most situations.

頑張ってね
ganbatte-ne
– This is more relaxed and more casual. In some cases it can be seen as more feminine, but not always.

頑張ってください
ganbatte-kudasai
– This is the polite version. Use this one with people you don’t know well.

頑張れ
ganbare
– This is a command! Use this one primarily at sporting events, shouted at the top of your lungs.

For the sake of completeness (and preparing you for seeing this word in the wild), I’ll share three more uses. These don’t really mean “good luck,” but they’re useful to know.

頑張る
ganbaru
“I’ll do my best.”
“I’ll give it a shot.”

頑張ります
ganbarimas
Same as 頑張る, but more polite.

頑張りましょう
ganbarimasho
“Let’s do our best!”
“Let’s try it!”

頑張ろう
ganbaro
Same as 頑張りましょう, but more intense.

頑張ったね
ganbatta-ne
“You did your best.”

 

There are other ways to translate and use 頑張る, but this article is about how to translate “good luck,” so we’re really only focusing on the “good luck aspect of 頑張る here.
 

How to use 頑張る in a sentence

大丈夫だよ。頑張って!
Daijobu-yo. Ganbatte!
You’ll be fine. Good luck!

テスト頑張って!
Testo, ganbatte!
Good luck on your test!

頑張るしかないよね。
Ganbaru shikanai-yone
All you can do is try your best.
 

Another sense of “Good luck”

What if you want to wish someone “Good luck” in the sense of “Take care,” or “Be careful”? For that you’ll use the set phrase 気を付けて (ki-o-tsukete).

This word is made up of three parts. First, the kanji 気, which in this context means something like “spirit” or more so, “health.”

Next is,を which is a grammatical particle which just indicates that the 気 is the object of the phrase. Finally, there’s 付けて, which in this context sorta means “keep an eye on.” So, “keep an eye on your health.” Makes sense.

This is the second most common way to say “good luck,” so let’s review a couple of sample sentences.

 

風邪をひかないように気をつけてください。
kaze o hikanai-yoni ki-o-tsukete-kudasai.
Look out that you don’t catch cold, please.

そう、いいわよ。いってらっしゃい。でも運転には気を付けてね。
So, ii-wayo. Itterrashai. Demo, unten-niwa ki-o-tsukete-ne.
Oh, OK. See you. But drive carefully.

 

Let’s cover two more, somewhat less common (but by no means uncommon) expressions.

If you want to say “Best of luck to you,” to someone you might not see again, give them a お元気で (o-genki-de)!

If you want to wish someone good luck with their health, as in “Get better,” or “Stay safe in these dangerous times,” you can say お大事に (o-daiji-ni).
 

One more Japanese way to say good luck

You may, on occasion see グッドラック, which is just the phonetic transcription of “good luck.” To pronounce this right, you’d say guddo rakku.

As far as I can tell, this one isn’t really used in day-to-day speech. It’s just a way to more directly carry over the English expression. You’ll see it in some song titles, film titles, and when directly transliterating something over from English.
 

Good luck out in Japanland!

Alright, you’ve officially got a full rundown of all the great ways to wish someone “good luck” in Japanese. Don’t forget that these aren’t exact translations o the words, but more like translations of the feelings and intentions.

So, the next time you want to give someone a bit of encouragement, you know what to do! Good luck!
 

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