How to Overcome Difficulties with the Ganbatte

Japanese people have an incredible ability to recover from catastrophes of any kind. After World War II that left the country in ruins, in just thirty years Japan became the second largest economy in the world, becoming leaders in the electronics sector in the eighties and nineties. How could the Japanese economic miracle happen? The answer has to do with an expression that we should use too: “ganbatte” which means “try your best”.

Here lies one of the differences between the fragility of the Western culture and the resilience of Japanese culture: how they deal with crisis’ situations.

In Japan, when they have to take an exam, they say “Ganbatte kudasai“, which is the best way to tell others to do their best. In this case, there is no external factor on which the outcome of your exam depends on. According to the Japanese, if you try your best, you will get a result, which even if not the best ever, it will be the best for you, because it represents your maximum effort.

Another Japanese saying, also very useful to all of us, is: “if you want to warm a rock, sit over it for a hundred years”, which means that to overcome great difficulties you need to be patient. However, this doesn’t mean sitting down and waiting for circumstances to change, it means actually working to create new situations and opportunities.

The “ganbatte” is present in the individual and collective activities of the Japanese, and it is very much linked to the Ikigai, that is simply the priority around which everything else (often unconsciously) turns.

In 1995, when the disastrous earthquake happened in Kobe causing enormous damages, the slogan that circulated in Japan was: Ganbaro Kobe. The meaning of the message was: strength and courage from all of us; united and with effort we will get out of this situation.

Later on, in 2011, on the occasion of another big earthquake that caused the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, the slogan that encouraged all Japanese was: Ganbaru Nippon! This encouraged all Japanese to join in the collective effort to help all those involved in the catastrophe. A collective effort was required, and this spirit manifested heroically when retired workers from the nuclear power plant volunteered to control it. The reason presented by those people was that it was better for the radiation to affect people who had already lived a good part of their lives rather than young people with a future ahead.

A good lesson for all of us in these difficult times. We could try to do as the Japanese do by following these four practical tips.

  1. Do without complaining. Don’t complain with your arms crossed: do something. Value your actions, even if they seem of little importance to you, in reality everything you do is important. As the Kaizen philosophy says, modest but continuous progress ends up in a great transformation.
  2. Hope instead of despair. An attitude of hope focused on day after day rather than on “when this will end” helps to keep morale high.
  3. Don’t waste energy. Don’t venture into endless arguments, which get you nowhere. It is necessary to keep all your strengths (mental and physical) to keep moving forward.
  4. Seek the company of enthusiastic people. We are friends by affinity. However, this does not exclude that we can surround ourselves with people with a ganbatte spirit, who strive to improve rather than seeing only the negative side.

Do you think ganbatte can help you with facing difficult situations?

person climbing on mountain
Difficult Situation – Photo by Pixabay on

20 thoughts on “How to Overcome Difficulties with the Ganbatte

  1. I hear “Ganbatte” often in Sumo. Some days, we are the victor and others we leave defeated. But, tomorrow is a new day and we rise to meet it regardless of yesterday’s outcome. Your post is a thankful reminder of that idea. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I love this, thank you for sharing. In the final analysis, everyone is just trying to do their best. We should always be kind

  3. My eyes watered at the decision of the retired workers to control the nuclear plant instead of the young ones. So heroic.
    God bless Japan 🙏

  4. Beautiful post, Cristiana! Ganbatte – try your best, what a wonderful motto to live by. And I love how you provide examples of how the Japanese use it individually and collectively. When I feel frustrated that our collective best isn’t happening, I can remember to do my best individually and hope that it helps contribute to collective enthusiasm!

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