How do you wish someone good luck in Japanese?
Saying the phrase ganbatte (頑張って / がんばって) or ganbare (頑張れ / がんばれ) is the most common way to do it. Its original meaning is ‘to persevere’.
Just recently, I was preparing for an internship interview at a Japanese company, so I asked for corrections from my language exchange partners on my self-introduction. Afterward, they sent ganbatte ne! That really gave me a huge boost, and I survived the interview the next day!
There are a lot of obstacles in language learning, and persevering is one way to overcome them. Since you’re here with us today, take this as a sign of good fortune and let’s talk about the many words and symbols for good luck in Japanese!
Luck and fortune in Japanese
Let’s start with three vocabulary words associated with ‘luck’. Un (運 /うん ) refers to ‘luck’ as a noun. It can be good luck – un ga ii (運がいい / うんがいい) or bad luck – un ga warui (運が悪い / うんがわるい).
Kouun (幸運 / こううん) is another way to say ‘good luck’ or ‘good fortune’ as a noun or adjective.
Fuku (福 / ふく) means ‘blessing’, ‘luck’, or ‘fortune’. This is a noun used in words that pertain to lucky things, such as:
- Fukubukuro (福袋 / ふくぶくろ) – New Year’s lucky bag
- Fukushi (福祉 / ふくし) – social welfare and service
- Fukurokuju (福禄寿 / ふくろくじゅ) – god of happiness and prosperity .
How to say good luck in Japanese
The literal translation of ‘wishing you good luck’ is kouun o inorimasu (幸運を祈ります / こううんをいのります), but this is not commonly used and sounds a little unnatural. So here are some natural examples you can use:
Ganbatte (頑張って / がんばって) is the best way to wish someone ‘good luck’ in Japanese! This has the same energy and motivation as ‘You can do it!’ or ‘Best of luck!’.
The root word, ganbaru (頑張る / がんばる) actually means ‘to persevere’ and ‘to do one’s best’. It also contains the kanji for ‘stubborn’ (頑). Though nothing here seems to be connected to luck, the mentality of holding out and doing your best can give you a good result.
Say, your friend trained very hard for a marathon. At the beginning of the race, you tell them ganbatte! for good luck, but it can also mean ‘don’t give up!’.
The -te form (～て) is used in ganbatte because it is a continuous action. It can also sound like a command, so if you want to soften your tone, you can say ganbatte ne (頑張ってね / がんばってね).
If someone tells you ganbatte, a good response is ganbarimasu (頑張ります / がんばります) or ‘I’ll do my best!’
Kyou shiken ga aru ne. Ganbatte ne!
きょう しけん が ある ね。 がんばって ね！
You have an exam today right? Good luck!
Yes, I’ll do my best!
Note that ganbatte is casual language. To make it formal or polite, you must say ganbatte kudasai (頑張ってください / がんばってください). It’s better to say this in a professional setting, especially when addressing seniors at work or school, as well as people you barely know.
Other forms of ganbatte include:
- Ganbatta (ne) (頑張ったね / がんばったね) – past tense, ‘You did your best.’, ‘Well done!’
- Ganbaru yo (頑張るよ / がんばるよ) – present tense, very casual, ‘Good luck!’
- Ganbare (頑張れ / がんばれ) – imperative (command) form, more forceful. You would typically hear this screamed at sporting events!
Ouen shite imasu
I’m rooting for you
The phrase ouen shite imasu (応援しています / おうえんしています) is a polite way to say ‘I’m rooting for/supporting you!’. The word ouen can mean cheering or supporting.
Showing your utmost support for someone is one of the many ways to wish them good luck. You can hear this phrase during competitions, races, and elections.
Other variations according to formality are:
- Ouen shiteru yo (応援してるよ / おうえんしてるよ) – casual
- Ouen sasete itadakimasu (応援させていただきます / おうえんさせていただきます) – very formal, business setting
Umaku ikimasu you ni
May it turn out well for you
If you are writing a formal letter or speaking to a superior at work, you can wish them ‘all the best’ by saying umaku ikimasu you ni (上手くいきますように / うまくいきますように). This is a very formal phrase for when ganbatte kudasai is insufficient.
Umaku iku (上手くいく / うまくいく) means ‘to go smoothly’ or ‘to turn out well’. You may find this suitable to say in a situation where something has to be accomplished, like a big project or meeting.
Gokouin o inorimasu
I pray for/wish for your good luck
Gokouin o inorimasu (ご行員を祈ります / ごこういんをいのります) is another formal and polite way to say good luck in Japanese. This is a handy phrase to memorize for business Japanese, even if it is not used in day-to-day speech.
We already know that kouin o inoru is the literal translation for ‘good luck’ in Japanese. Adding the prefix go- (ご～) makes the sentence more polite.
Faito (ファイト) is derived from the English word ‘Fight!’. You might hear people scream this in high-energy situations, like sports competitions or contests. This can also be used to encourage someone before they face a challenge, such as an exam or job interview.
Note that faito is an informal expression, so it is best to use this among close friends or family members.
All the best
When you want to wish ‘all the best’ to someone you won’t see again for a long time, you can say ogenki de (お元気で / おげんきで). Although this is a little formal, you can still use this with people close to you.
Ogenki de is also used to convey ‘best of luck to you’ or ‘stay well’ when saying goodbye to someone.
Un ga ii / un ga yoi
運がいい / 運が良い
Lucky, good luck
Un ga ii (運がいい / うんがいい) is an adjective for something or someone who is lucky. We can recall that un means ‘luck’, and ii is another form of the word yoi (良い / よい), meaning ‘good’. Its antonym is un ga warui (運が悪い / うんがわるい).
To talk about something lucky that already happened, use the past tense un ga yokatta (運が良かった / うんがよかった).
Rakkii (ラッキー) is the transliteration of the English word ‘lucky’. You don’t use this to wish someone good luck, but rather describe events, people, or things as lucky. Perhaps you found out your favorite restaurant is having a huge discount today – ラッキー!
Meanwhile, guddo rakku (グドラック) or ‘good luck’ is not really used as an expression. However, you can encounter the word in translations of foreign media to Japanese, like song lyrics or movie titles.
Japanese symbols for good luck
All this talk about luck and fortune is nothing without getting to know some valuable symbols for good luck in Japanese culture! Lucky charms are called engimono (縁起物 / えんぎもの). From trinkets to holiday decorations, there is a lucky charm for everyone. Read on and pick a favorite!
Koi fish, also called nishikigoi (錦鯉 / にしきごい) or colored carp, can be found in rivers and ponds. Many Japanese gardens house beautiful koi in ponds, and some let visitors feed the fish. Koi represent perseverance and longevity.
During Children’s Day in Japan, carp streamers are strung up by families to pray for their children’s success and health as they grow up.
Generally, cats are seen as lucky in Japan. The beckoning cat figurine, or maneki neko (招き猫 / まねきねこ) is probably one of the most famous symbols of good luck in East Asia. Typically found in white (they have other kinds of cat colors, too!), the maneki neko motions good luck their way with one or two paws. These are usually seen in shop counters or windows.
Omikuji (御神籤 / おみくじ) are paper fortunes that you can buy at Japanese shrines. They can be good or bad predictions.
If you get a good fortune, you can take the strip of paper home with you! But if you get a bad prediction, don’t throw it away just yet! You can simply choose to tie it at the designated corner in the shrine to leave the bad luck.
Talismans and amulets come in the form of omamori (お守り / おまもり), small prayers wrapped inside colorful silk that you can hang on any of your possessions. New Year is the best time to buy (or replace) an omamori at a shrine. These are supposed to attract blessings in the owner’s life.
There are many types of omamori, such as:
- Katsumori (勝守 / かつもり) – Success
- Enmusubi (縁結び / えんむすび) – Love
- Kaiun (開運 / かいうん) – Luck
- Shiawase (幸せ / しあわせ) – Happiness
- Gakugyoujouju (学業成就 / がくぎょうじょうじゅ) – Education
- Yakuyoke (厄除け / やくよけ) – Keeping evil away
- Shoubaihanjou (商売繫盛 / しょうばいはんじょう) – Money
- Koutsuanzen (交通安全 / こうつあんぜん) – Road safety
If you have a wish that you desperately want to come true, it is said that folding senbazuru (千羽鶴 / せんばづる) or 1,000 origami cranes will grant you your wish. Some people tie and hang these paper cranes up in strings, while some collect them all in one jar.
No matter which way you do it, senbazuru can give the owner a lot of hope and strength. There is nothing like working hard to make your wish come true!
Daruma (ダルマ) dolls are round and hollow. They typically come in red, and have empty, white eyes upon purchase. You must fill in one eye when you make a wish, then once it is fulfilled, fill in the other eye. Completed daruma dolls are donated to a temple as an offering.
These glaring, bright red dolls are designed to never tip over even when someone tilts it whichever way. It perfectly represents how we should keep persevering no matter the trials that come our way.
Good luck in Japanese
We hope this post has helped you learn some of the many ways to talk about luck in Japanese!
Remember, ‘good luck’ is one of those phrases that cannot be translated literally into Japanese. Instead, the most natural way to wish someone good luck would be to say ganbatte.
And if you’re in need of some good luck yourself, don’t forget your engimono (Japanese good luck charms)! With a maneki neko, daruma or omamori, you will always be feeling rakkii!
Thea is a freelance content writer, currently majoring in Japanese studies. She likes to create art and draws inspiration from film and music. Thea was inspired to study Japanese language and culture by reading the literary works of Haruki Murakami and Edogawa Ranpo.