Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gambatte! (Gahm-baht-tay!) – A Japanese Word that Everyone Should Know

Japan’s Do-or-Die-Trying Cultural Syndrome!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

Japan’s famed feudal era samurai warriors left their imprint on the culture of the country in every aspect and area of Japanese thought and behavior—an imprint that still today is discernible in the character and personality of the Japanese.

In the exclusive and elite samurai class male children from the age of six or seven were trained in the necessary mental and physical discipline to commit a painful form of suicide (as adults from the age of 15) when ordered to do so by their lords, to be courageous in battle well beyond the norm for soldiers, to carefully groom themselves every morning before going out in public, to master a number of martial arts, and to be extraordinarily diligent in everything else they set out to do.

As the centuries passed (the samurai class developed in the 12th century and lasted until the early 1870s), the training style and mindset of the samurai gradually seeped into the attitudes and behavior of the common people, resulting in the typical Japanese being extraordinarily concerned about appearance, extraordinarily diligent about learning the skills of their particular trade (or activity of any kind), to continuously trying to improve themselves, and to refusing to accept failure.

This mindset led to the extraordinary importance and use of the word ganbaru (gahn-bah-ruu), which means to persevere, to persist, to never give up (also sometimes written in English letters as gambaru / gahm-bah-ruu). At all times in all things that were demanding to any degree, the Japanese were continuously admonished and encouraged to gambatte! (gahm-baht-tay!)—to do their best; to not give up no matter what the odds.

The concept of gambaru-ing eventually became so deeply embedded in the psyche of the Japanese that it was equated with being a true or real Japanese. In military situations in particular not persevering to the very last breath of life was considered seriously shameful to the whole country.

Still today gambatte and gambarimasho (gahm-bah-ree-mah-show!) – Let’s do our absolute best! – are two of the most used words in the vocabulary of the Japanese. They are used in work situations, in sports, in games of any kind, in learning any kind of skill, and especially in any kind of competitive activity. [In recent times Olympic athletes have been threatened with death when they failed to win their event.]

I do not recommend that other people adopt this extreme approach to cultural training and day-to-day behavior, but some of them could definitely benefit from a heavy dose of it. And if businesspeople, diplomats and others who deal with Japan are not familiar with this aspect of Japanese culture they are likely to be seriously disadvantaged.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For definite essays on several hundred other key Japanese “cultural code words,” see the author’s books: The Japanese Have a Word for It [McGraw-Hill] and Japan’s Cultural Code Words [Tuttle Publishing]. Also see his: KATA – The Key to Understanding & Dealing with the Japanese and Japan Unmasked: The Character & Culture of the Japanese; The Japanese Samurai Code and Samurai Strategies…all available from Amazon.com, other online booksellers and major retail outlets. For a complete list of his books, go to:

No comments: