一生懸命

In our third installment of the Japanese idioms series, we hit upon an extremely well known, well used phrase. This was the phrase cited by Kakuryu, Asashoryu, and Chiyonofuji. It is so well used, most people may not even realize that it is one of these four-character idioms. Basically, it means to work hard, so hard one’s life depends upon it. Practically synonymous with “gambarimasu,” or as we say in English, to gamberize, the two are often used together. My wife said it to the kids tonight.

一生懸命頑張ります。

The first two kanji are very common, meaning “one” and “to live.” The third character, “ken” is very rare and not used much on its own. It is, however, important for fans of sumo as the “ken” in “kensho” and “kenshokin” the sponsorship banners and winners bounties awarded to victors, respectively. Lastly, “mei” is the character for life, “inochi”. I’m not going to hazard a guess at a literal translation and I think we can see why Google has such trouble and often ends up with word salad.

You’re likely wondering why I’m skipping a few promotions, going from Kisenosato to Kakuryu. Terunofuji and Goeido decided not to cite an idiom, opting for simple ceremonies, not wanting to stumble over the phrases. For native Japanese speakers, it could also be a bit intimidating since there’s likely a desire to sound sophisticated and a bit of pressure to use a rare one, as we’ll see next time with Kotoshogiku. It’s a particular challenge for non-native Japanese speakers, as we saw with Tochinoshin opting to skip it as well.

16 thoughts on “一生懸命


  1. google/bing translate is a cracker isn’t it? i can see how isshokenmei ganbarimasu could be turned into salad – that just tickled the old funny bone today 😉


  2. I’m a psychologist and I swear to God during the last basho I came thisclose to telling a client to gamberize!


    • I presume it’s been coined numerous times. We used to use it as NOVA teachers in 2003-2004. Kind of the opposite of taking an English word and approximating in in katakana when there’s a new term.


      • Fair enough. I’m just saying that it has a relatively accepted form as far as its use in sumo fandom goes.


      • We were using it in the Marines in 1980s Japan (Iwakuni). I do think Kintamayama popularized it’s use, and I think if anyone should be credited with it’s origin, it would be him.


  3. Thanks very much, Andy. I greatly appreciate these cultural insights. I became a fan of sumo back in the ’90s, when I frequently traveled to China. The hotels in which I stayed in China usually provided the NHK TV channel, which allowed me my first extended look at the sport during the years when Takanohana and Wakanohana were dominant forces while Akebono’s injuries were taking their toll. As the 21st century dawned, my trips to China waned. Just a couple years ago Comcast gave me an extended free look at TV Japan, and my love for sumo was reborn. I’ve missed seeing only one basho over the last 25 months and Tachiai has been a great help in deepening my understanding of the sport and getting to know the rikishi a bit better. Thanks for all that you and your compadres do.


    • I’m glad you’re getting back into it! I barely remember the Taka/Waka days. I wish YouTube was around back then.


  4. One day I’d like to see some rikishi using 十人十色 and throwing everybody into a fit.

    Or going meta and using 四字熟語.


      • “Different strokes for different folks” (Literally, ten people, ten colors). I have no idea how the “cohesion above all” Japanese culture came up with that one.


  5. I just watched Japan-easy on nhk world this morning. Today’s lesson was about lunch at the sumo heya. They mentioned 七転び八起き or 七転八起 Fall down 7 times, get up 8 times. It said the first letter t or 7 could sound like nana or shichi, then korabi 8 yao ki. These are fun.


  6. I would shoot for something along the lines of “Watashi no hobākurafuto wa unagi de ippai desu.”

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