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.
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.