Your Friend in Japan

Defining Hard Work in the Japanese, and How to Talk to Senpai

Written by HotAnime

One of my favorite aspects about the Japanese is the way they value diligence and hard work, whether it’s spending many hours studying for university entrance exams or the J-List staff going the extra mile for our customers before going home for the night. (The Japanese lyrics of classic song auld lang syne are about a boy studying by the light of fireflies he’s caught, so great is his desire to learn and do well in life.) The hardworking spirit of the Japanese can be seen in words like 頑張る ganbaru, which means to work hard or try one’s all, and 朝練 asaren, or morning practice, when every member of a school club such as brass band (as seen in Kyoani’s beautiful Hibike! Euphonium) is expected to arrive at 6 am to practice with the other club members for two hours every day. Finally, a word that expresses Japan’s hardworking spirit is 徹夜 tetsuya, or working through the night until morning. If an employee in Japan works all night on a project, he will probably gain respect from his boss and coworkers.

You can learn other interesting things about the Japanese kokoro (heart) through language, for example the way relationships are organized “vertically,” with people who are older or who have more seniority in a school or organization (senpai) assuming different roles from those younger or of lower level (kohai). Junior-level individuals must show respect to their senpai, which includes using (nominally) polite speech including formal verbs like desu and shimasu (‘is’ and ‘to do’), while speech from the senior group to the younger group is usually informal, using da and suru (these are the exact same words, just in their informal forms). Using the right verb for the right situation can be a challenge for young Japanese (or all gaijin). Nenecchi discovers this when she accidentally uses informal (too-friendly) language with the strict Umiko in the New Game! anime, an error I’ve made many times.

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