There are tons of different ways to say good luck in Japanese! I think that the main reason why this is so, is because we tend to use that one phrase for a variety of different situations in English, but it’s not quite the same thing when it comes to Japanese… How can you tell when to use each version in Japanese? And how do you say good luck in Japanese?
(By the way, the crane is a symbol of good luck in Japan)
I’ll answer both of those questions, but first let’s start off with the most common Japanese phrase for good luck, in the way that we generally use it in English. After that, we will explore some of the other possible ways to say it in Japanese and what their alternate English versions would be.
You’ll want to memorize at least this first section since it is used all the time in both real life Japanese, and in a lot of the anime and manga that is out there.
The rest is good to know, but perhaps not as essential.
The Most Common Way to Say “Good Luck”
In English, we tend to use the two words “good” and “luck” together as one set phrase – Good luck!
This phrase is used in a variety of different situations, but the most common way to use it in English is as an encouragement for someone, before they take on a challenge. Here’s what I mean by that:
- “Hey, good luck on your test today!”
- “David is taking on the reigning boxing champion. We wish him good luck in tonight’s match!”
In these types of situations, the Japanese word that you will want to use is 頑張れ which translates as “hold on; go for it; keep at it; do your best”
It is usually in the -te form of Japanese as 頑張って when a person wants to tell the other “good luck.” The reason for this is because the -te version of Japanese is what’s used to make requests. So even though 頑張って is used to wish someone good luck, a more literal translation would be like: “please, go for it!”
This is one of those cases where a literal translation doesn’t quite work between the two languages and it’s better to take the approach of “what do Japanese people normally say in these types of situations” instead of the approach of “what are the exact Japanese words for this English phrase.”
Just like how “good luck” is a set phrase in English with multiple applications, 頑張って is also has more than one meaning. The common one we went over (“good luck” before an attempt is made), but this same phrase can also be used to tell someone “hang in there” when they are already doing something and it looks like they’re having a tough time.
So you would say 頑張って to your friend before the boxing match to wish them good luck, and then after the bell rings at the end of round 2 and they take a short break, you would tell them 頑張って again, but this second time it would mean “hang in there!”
There are variations of this phrase such as 頑張ってください which sounds like “please do your best” (it really emphasizes the “please”) and it is something that a parent or teacher would say to you. It’s also a little more formal than just 頑張って, so go ahead and add the ください if you don’t know the person all that well.
On the other hand, the informal 頑張ってね is what you would typically hear from your friend to mean “do your best, okay?” Adding on that ね confirmation particle is pretty common.
Most of the time, the above understanding of 頑張って for “good luck” in Japanese will suffice. But there are other words for “luck” that you should be aware of as well.
Other Ways to Say “Good Luck”
What if you’re not encouraging someone, but rather talking about the noun “luck” combined with the adjective “good” to describe what kind of luck it is? This is totally different in Japanese and is one of those situations I talked about earlier where you really see how the Japanese language does not line up perfectly with English.
(By the way, the koi is also a symbol of good fortune in Japan)
The Japanese word for “luck” (the noun) is 運.
So let’s say that you are walking down the street with a friend and they find a $5 bill on the ground and pick it up. You might tell them that “they have good luck” for finding it.
That’s some good luck, eh?
Maybe you keep walking and you friend finds out that there was a hole in his pocket and he lost the $5!
Now your luck is bad.
But isn’t it true that we have lots of synonyms in English? For example, we tend to use the words “luck” and “fortune” in almost identical ways.
Well, it’s the same thing in Japanese too. The word 幸せ in Japanese means “happiness; good fortune; luck; blessing.”
I almost always see 幸せ used to mean “happy” in Japanese rather than “lucky,” but it will pop up from time to time like in wht word 幸せ者 whcih means “fortunate person; lucky fellow;” or like when we say to someone “oh man, you’re a lucky dog!”
If you are in a more formal setting, you might tell the other person one of these two things:
- うまくいきますように which basically means “may it turn out well for you.”
- ご幸運を祈ります which is a polite way of saying “I wish for your good luck.”
Sometimes you may be in a situation where you want to wish a person good luck on their journey. A common way to say “good bye / good luck” when this happens is ごきげんよう！This is kind of like saying “bon voyage” as they depart.
And no list of words would be complete without a loan word, am I right? Of course the Japanese have borrowed the exact English phrase “good luck” and made it their own as 「グッドラック」which you probably won’t hear all that much.
It’s kind of a novelty expression.
May the Odds be Ever in You Favor!
Have you heard any of these Japanse words before? After reading them all, which do you like the most?
Let me know by commenting below!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: