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“Sasageyo” in Japanese: Here’s What It Really Means

“Sasageyo” in Japanese: Here’s What It Really Means
  Fans of dark fantasy anime Attack on Titan will immediately recognize the word Sasageyo.

If you don’t, try singing it. This word features prominently in the popular anime’s second opening theme, 『心臓を捧げよ!』 (“Dedicate Your Heart!”).

But is the word “dedicate” really the best choice? How about “sacrifice,” or “offer” or even “lift up”?

As with many translations, it’s complicated.

 

What does Japanese “sasageyo” mean?

「捧げよ」 (sasageyo) is the imperative form of the Japanese word 捧ぐ (sasagu), a verb with three main uses. 捧ぐ can mean either “to lift up or hold up,” “to give, offer or consecrate” or “to devote, sacrifice or dedicate.” The よ (yo) on the end adds emphasis. In plain English, 「捧げよ」 is a command telling someone to either lift up, offer, sacrifice or devote something. In the lyrics for the Attack on Titan theme song, “dedicate” is a solid choice.

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捧ぐ (sasagu): the core of 「捧げよ」

捧ぐ (sasagu) is the key to understanding 「捧げよ」 (sasageyo).

This Japanese verb can have a number of different meanings, among them “to lift up” and “to devote.”

Interestingly, the verb is a less common form of 捧げる (sasageru), giving this particular phrase a somewhat obscure, literary feel.

The meanings of both words are identical, however, and all have worshipful overtones, with likely origins in actual sacrifices or offerings to gods.

In fact, one of the kanji present in 捧ぐ is 奉 (hou, “offer”), which is also used in words like 奉仕 (houshi, “church work”) and 奉仕者 (houshisha, “religious minister”).

Let’s take a moment to look at each possible meaning.

 

Lifting something up with 捧ぐ

捧ぐ can be used to mean “to lift up” or “to hold up.” More specifically, it can mean to lift something above eye level.

Picture that scene in Disney’s The Lion King where the wise Rafiki holds up the newborn baby Simba, future pride (pun definitely intended) of his kingdom. That’s a good mental image of this meaning of 捧ぐ.

Examples

「ラフィキはシンバを捧いだ。」 “Rafiki lifted Simba up.” Classic.

Here, we have the simple past tense form of 捧ぐ, 捧いだ (sasaida). The meaning is “lifted up” or perhaps “raised.”

The Meaning of Japanese Sasageyo Explained in All Detail

 

Offerings and consecrations

Shinto, Japan’s native religion, offers many examples of 捧げる being used to refer to offerings and making things holy (that is, consecrating them).

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One important offering in Shinto is a 玉ぐし (tamagushi), a type of tree branch decorated with washi paper or some kind of fabric. Shinto priests make ritual presentations of tamagushi at many ceremonies, including weddings and funerals.

Examples

「神社で玉串を捧げましょう。」 “Let’s offer a tamagushi at the shrine.”
「神に祈りを捧げました。」 “He offered prayers to God.”

Here, 捧げる (sasageru) is used instead of 捧ぐ (sasagu). This is what people would actually say in real life, so it’s more appropriate.

 

Let’s get bloody: sacrifices and 捧ぐ

The last possible set of meanings for 捧ぐ is “to devote, sacrifice or dedicate.”

Sacrifices can be literal or metaphorical, as shown by the word being sandwiched in between “devote” and “dedicate,” two decidedly cozier words that still show hardship.

Basically, this meaning of 捧ぐ shows someone giving something up for something else. In some cases, that first something just happens to be the blood of a living thing.

Examples

「彼らはやぎを神への捧げ物として殺した。」 “They killed a goat as a sacrifice to God.”

Who says God is dead? Not these eager worshippers.

This example comes from tatoeba, an online database of sentences made freely available for translation.

「彼は仕事に自分を捧げました。」

“He dedicated himself to his job.”

Although jobs usually don’t include actual sacrifice of living creatures, anyone working 9-to-5 can surely relate to the sentiment.

 

Forming the imperative

Enough about 捧ぐ. Let’s move on!

Japanese Verbs are commonly classified in English texts as “ru verbs” or “u verbs,” but in Japanese these are referred to as either “ichidan” or “godan” verbs.

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捧ぐ is the standard (infinitive) form of a godan verb (an “u verb” in the English classification). This particular verb ends with ぐ (gu).

To conjugate the imperative (command) form of a godan verb, you swap the “u” in the words’ final syllable with an “e.” For 捧ぐ (sasagu), that means we end up with 捧げ (sasage).

The difference in meaning is the same as the difference between “It is painful to sacrifice something” and “Go sacrifice something right now.” in English.

 

よ (yo): it’s for emphasis!

The よ (yo) on the end of 「捧げよ」 is simply a particle placed at the end of a sentence to emphasize what comes before it.

In this case, it makes the command to sacrifice or dedicate something more forceful.

The only other note about よ is that it doesn’t usually make it into a translation, or at least not directly. You can think of it as meaning “seriously” or “really,” if that helps.

Examples

「信じられないよ!」 “I seriously can’t believe it!”
「待ってよ!」 “Wait up!”
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In both these sentences, よ shows emphasis. In the first, it makes clear just how hard it is for the speaker to believe something. In the second, it adds a sense of urgency to the command form of “to wait.”

 

What does Japanese “sasageyo” mean in the Attack on Titan theme?

In Linked Horizon’s second opening song for Attack on Titan, the word 「捧げよ」 is used in the refrain, the part of the song that’s repeated several times.

It might not surprise anyone familiar with Attack on Titan (an anime about human-eating giants that must be defeated by human warriors) to learn that the song lyrics are about the suffering faced by those who must fight demons.

The main body of the song describes the anguish of these fighters, and the sacrifices they have made to get to a point where they can defeat their enemies.

The refrain differs slightly each time it’s sung, but each time it contains the line 「捧げよ!捧げよ!心臓を捧げよ!」 twice.

Around that line come lyrics reminding the fighters of the hardships, sacrifices and herculean efforts they have made to reach this point, and urging them to keep moving forward and defeat their foes to gain victory and freedom.

“Devote” and “dedicate” would both be good translations for this particular case. An argument could also be made for “steel,” as in “Steel (harden) your heart.”

In short, the implication of 「捧げよ」 in the Attack on Titan theme is, “Don’t give up, despite the hardships you face.”

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