In Japan, after experiencing the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, “Ganbatte” which contains all sense of “Cheer up, Bear up, Keep your chin up, Be courageous, Do your best” became the password of everybody on the streets. With this single word, we can portray all meaning of encouragement. I think perhaps, Chinese word, “加油 - Jia you” well corresponds to “Ganbatte” in its sense and function.

We watch Japanese famous personalities and athletes such as baseball, soccer, and golf players addressing Ganbatte (or Ganbare) to both victims of the great earthquake and general audience who were fortunately intact to the disaster in every ten minutes in TV commercials these days.

What do you think English equivalent to the word, “Ganbatte” closest to the feeling of “Ganbatte” that can be expressed in a single word or very brief phrase?

  • 7
    "Chin up" is actually fine to use.
    – MrHen
    Apr 18, 2011 at 18:38
  • "Hearken!" is a rare one I throw around. But they all look askance at me and shuffle awkwardly. I hope we adopt "Ganbatte" then, I'll try. Sep 30, 2011 at 1:15
  • "Go get 'em!" or "No pain no gain" or "Keep at it!" have similar meanings. I'm curious about "Ganbatte" - what does it mean literally? What are other words like it? Sep 30, 2011 at 1:37
  • 1
    If we were all Finns, I think sisu would be perfect for this. It has the added benefit of being a concept the Finns actually identify with, just like the Japanese do with 頑張って. May 18, 2014 at 15:06
  • 1
    "Harken" means to listen and heed. I have never heard it as an encouraging phrase.
    – Theresa
    Apr 28, 2017 at 3:28

12 Answers 12


The closest American equivalent to 頑張って is probably "Hang in there!" In British English it used to be "Keep a stiff upper lip," but I don't know how current that is.

  • We need a one-word analogous statement though, if at all possible. "Hang in there!" is nice, but it seems to be Indiana Jones-ish. But yes, "Hang in there" is good Sep 30, 2011 at 1:16
  • 頑張って also implies that success depends your effort, so I'm asking you not to give up even if the situation is hopeless. Nov 3, 2011 at 1:17
  • If you say "Stiff upper lip" to someone in Britain today, they'll probably know what you mean, but think you are being very old-fashioned, maybe even making a joke. It's to do with bearing sorrow well, rather than trying hard, so doesn't fit with all uses of ganbatte.
    – Dan Hulme
    Mar 19, 2014 at 10:06
  • 'Stiff upper lip' could be too broad here, as it refers to any not showing emotions. For example remaining cool in times of great excitement and happiness would also be the British 'Stiff upper lip'.
    – dwjohnston
    May 19, 2014 at 4:48

I know of the word ganbatte from my limited study of Japanese.

I guess it tells us something about the Japanese spirit, and something about that of the English speaking world, that there is no English word that fulfils everything that ganbatte means.

That's OK. It's common for words not to have direct translations (today I learned that many languages don't distinguish an ache from a pain!)

So, when you want to translate the word ganbatte you must decide what part of what it means is most important, and use the one(s) that fits best to the situation:

  • "chin up" (stop being sad)
  • "grit your teeth" (be determined)
  • "cheer up"
  • "good luck"
  • "put best foot forward" (determination again)
  • "keep up the good work" / "keep it up"
  • "do your best"
  • "courage!"
  • "don't give up"
  • "be strong"
  • "onwards and upwards" (but I feel this is more often used sarcastically)

Again, all of these are a compromise - which is why, in circles where English speakers know their peers speak some basic Japanese, they'll use ganbatte kudasai themselves.


Perhaps this isn't strictly English, but here in New Zealand (particularly Christchurch after the 22 February earthquake) the Maori expression

kia kaha

is often used. As the link says, it means essentially "be strong". Of the little Japanese that I know, I think this is very similar to "Ganbatte".

  • 2
    If New Zealanders need to use a Maori word for this, there probably isn't an exact English equivalent. Apr 19, 2011 at 0:45
  • 1
    @Peter Shor: That's not necessarily true. For example, koha is often used when "donation" would be perfectly adequate. It's an artefact of the multiculturalism of New Zealand and is not due to an inadequacy of English. Apr 19, 2011 at 0:57
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    @Peter/Greg Hewgill. A local word such as “koha” can become an international word depending on its course. Actually ‘tsunami’ that laid us on the ground is Japanese origin. We’ve been suffering countless earthquakes and tsunamis since our ancestors settled down in this island country. I often watch these days grownups and school children of various donation groups in the world calling out ‘Ganbatte’ to Japanese sufferers of the disaster in TV, holding boards on which ‘Ganbatte’ is written in Roman characters. I feel like as if ‘Ganbatte’ is becoming a prevalent word even in foreign countries. Apr 20, 2011 at 4:28
  • @PeterShor - Not necessarily. New Zealanders' use of Maori phrases is a expression New Zealand culture. For example we also use 'Kia Ora!' or 'Ka pai!' for 'Good job!' 'Amen!' when there are plenty of English alternatives.
    – dwjohnston
    May 19, 2014 at 4:51
  • @PeterShor It's more about culture than lack of an English word. Kia Kaha was used as a loanword in NZ English in various senses even before the Christchurch earthquakes, it's literally means "Stay Strong" and that is used here as well. The Maori cultural context emphasises the importance of community rather than individual strength (as do many Polynesian and Asian cultures) so it may be more equivalent to がんばって often used for "Let's do our best".
    – Tom Kelly
    Feb 12, 2017 at 11:00

I'm thinking of

hang on !

as in persevere (persevere itself being too formal).

This is the closest I can think to Mandarin's jiāyóu (加油) which in this sense means "step on the accelerator".
加油 literally means "add (加)" + "petrol (油)" and has the following meanings:

  1. top up,
  2. step on the accelerator
  3. make an extra effort.
  • 1
    Yes. I think Mandarin,“加油” is close to Ganbatte. However, while literal interpretation of it from the characters of 加油is, as I understand, “Add more fuel” meaning pep yourself up, Ganbatte ““頑張って” contains compound meaning of “brace up” “endure it,” “make your best”, and “good luck.” I’m curious to know whether there is English word that can be used universally to encourage people who is unfortunate and discouraged as well as those are happy, but trying to be happier. Apr 18, 2011 at 9:07
  • @Yoichi Oishi, thank you for the precisions. Indeed I missed all these meanings. I'm afraid my Japanese is too weak. Robusto will surely have a better understanding. However, I'm not sure English has a single word for all these meanings. Apr 18, 2011 at 9:44

I keep thinking of the phrase "don't worry, be happy," but if I had to distill that sense down to a word, I think "courage" covers it. Perhaps "have faith" as well?

  • 2
    @Clinton Judy. I think “have courage (faith)” may work as an alternate to “Ganbatte,” but “Don’t worry” doesn’t console nor encourage people who are in grief by actually losing their family or house. Does it? Apr 18, 2011 at 7:15

Not exact one, but "Never give up" could be similar usage?

  • Mark. 'Never give up' is familiar English counterpart to me. Apr 18, 2011 at 6:40
  • Mark. 'Never give up' is familiar English counterpart to me. Howeve,can we use it to a boy who are going to take exam and hasn't failed yet? Gabatte can be used to both who are suffering disaster (bad luck) and challenging opprtunity (good luck). Apr 18, 2011 at 6:49
  • @Yoichi Oishi, Yeah, that "ganbatte" is different. "ganbatte" to the boy taking exam is "Try hard" or "Try your best", or "Good luck" as you said.
    – YOU
    Apr 18, 2011 at 6:54

The closest English analogue that I can see is the concept of "triumphing over adversity", which is a common English cliché. It's used by:

  • American sportscasters to describe the careers of underdog atheletes
  • Politicians and media to describe how people react to hardships like natural disasters
  • Individuals who wish to describe personal struggles like illnesses

Not really appropriate for the disaster scenario, but for persevering in an underdog position:

"Pull out all the stops" is a reference to organs (the musical instrument) which means to use all your energy and every strategy you have at your disposal to get the job done. It's often (usually?) said in the context of being an underdog or against the odds, like,

The team pulled out all the stops to win that game.

The development team needs to pull out all the stops to finish by the deadline.

And another one which has the same meaning: "to give one hundred and ten percent". Its common usage has elevated it to smirky cliché status though so I recommend finding a better way to say it.

The team will need to give 110% to win this one.

Both of these have a competitive feeling. They are about succeeding, not persevering.

For the scenario of making it through a disaster, I would just say persevere.

  • @To all answerers: Just for your information. JATA (Japan Association of Travel Agents) placed today a full-page ad in both Japanese and English in all major daily newspapers in Japan and possibly abroad under the title of “JATA Chairman’s Declaration Regarding the Recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake.” English version says ‘We will actively communicate the recovery process of Japan both in the country and abroad under the motto, “Cheer up Japan. Smile up with Travel.” I’m not sure if Cheer up exactly corresponds to “Gabatte,” but they seem obviously to have chosen “Cheer up” for it. Apr 18, 2011 at 23:00
  • 2
    @Yoichi Oishi: Glad you are hanging in there in this time of trouble for Japan, and I wish you well. 頑張ってください! I have to say, though, that "Cheer up" is about the least appropriate thing I can think of to say in English after a crisis like this. Imagine telling the citizens of New Orleans to "cheer up" after Hurricane Katrina decimated their city. Also, "Smile up" is just another Japlish approximation that sounds quite foreign and odd to a native English speaker. Sorry to speak so plainly about this. 申し訳ありまsん。
    – Robusto
    Apr 19, 2011 at 0:48
  • Sorry, that last bit should have been 申し訳ありません。My fingers didn't quite get the "e" so my English keyboard rendered the penultimate syllable as ローマ字。
    – Robusto
    Apr 19, 2011 at 1:05
  • @Robusto-san. Thank for your input. The English version of JATA Chairman’s Declaration reassuring quick recovery and safety of Japan after Great earthquake seemed to be crude and somewhat awkward even to me. I think it wasn’t drafted in English, but simply translated by an inexperienced translator from Japanese text. I can easily understand the embarrassment New Orleans citizen if being told "cheer up" after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their house. I wish I could show you all answerers the whole text of English version of the ad for evaluation and correction as English statement. Apr 19, 2011 at 1:22

Well, not sure about English equivalent for Japanese expression 'Ganbatte' or Chinese 'JiaYou' but in Spanish we say 'Animo' and as I watch many Korean dramas, I can tell that they frecuently say something that it sounds like the English word 'Fighting'


Forms of ganbaru have multiple meanings that should be interpreted in light of context and timing. Ganbaru expresses positive support for someone facing a difficulty like a test, a race, surgery, an interview, a business trip, etc., but can also express encouragement after a disaster as the original question suggests.

When used before a challenge, Ganbatte ne can mean, "Do your best," "You'll do great," "You can do it." Used during a challenge, it's used to encourage continued support, as in "Keep it up," "Don't give up," or chanted Ganbare, ganbare as in "Let's go, let's go!" After a success, Yoku ganbatta ne could be translated as "You did great!" or "Well done!"

After a personal failure, or a tragic disaster such as the earthquake and tsunami, ganbatte can also be used to console, such as "You can get through this," "Never give up," "Be strong" or group strength such as Bosuton-de ganbatteimasu (akin to "Boston Strong").

  • Well said. I've seen 'ganbatte' translated as 'fight', which was supposedly a literal translation. "Fight!" would fit some of the same purposes (esp, cheering your sports team), but not all. There's a lot of good suggestions here that work in some situations, but I don't think we have a single word/phrase that we would use in all the ways 'ganbatte' is used.
    – hunter2
    Jun 26, 2013 at 4:46
  • "Ganbatte" doesn't literally mean "fight". But both Japanese and Korean adopted "fight" (faito) or "fighting" (hwaiting) from English in some kind of mistranslation to use exactly like Japanese "ganbatte" and Chinese "jiayou". Jan 25, 2018 at 5:38

Ganbatte “頑張って” contains 2 characters borrowed from chinese, which is very close to 顽固地主张, literally tenacious proclamation. It conveys the idea to keep going until one achieves the originally declared objective.

  • "The idea to keep going until one achieves the originally declared objective" We have English expressions for this: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" and "If at first you don't succeed,: Try, try, try again."
    – Tom Kelly
    Feb 12, 2017 at 11:03

Consider Brace up!.

brace up: take heart; be brave: Brace up! Things could be worse.

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