“Good Luck” in Japanese — Spread positivity around you!

Today’s article is all about how to say “good luck” in Japanese. This super common term is sure to be useful for any language learner looking to support their peers, be it during exam week or before a big game.

koi fish and the Japanese red circle

But wishing Japanese people good luck can be more complex than meets the eye. So, as usual, kick back, grab your thinking caps, and let’s level up our Japanese!

“Luck” in Japanese

But before we go over how to wish someone luck in Japanese, let’s study the word on its own!

The word for “luck” in Japanese is こううん (kouun|幸運). Breaking down this word, we can see that 幸 (kou) represents “happiness” or “goodness” and that 運 (un) represents “fate” or “luck.” Thusly, the combination of the two makes for luck, which is inherently good. This word is flexible and can be used for any living thing.

It’s rather uncommonly used in the Japanese language but sometimes makes an appearance, especially when saying that something is a sign of luck or just lucky.

かれのどうりょうがそうしんして「こううんなひとだ」だとおもった (kare no douryou ga soushinshite 「kouun na hito da」 da to omotta | 彼の同僚が送信して「幸運な人だ」だと思った)

His coworker got a promotion, and he thought that they were a lucky person.

おかあさんのこううんはつよいさ (okaasan no kouun ha tsuyoi sa | お母さんの幸運は強いさ)

My mom has strong luck.

How to say “good luck” in Japanese

This question comes up a lot for Japanese students due to the fact that there is never taught a clear and definite way to say “good luck” in Japanese. It has no direct translation in English. Actually, there are quite a few ways to convey this thought in Nihongo!

Here are the most popular expressions with clear definitions and contextual evidence!

Common way of saying “good luck”

がんばる (ganbaru|頑張る) is a verb that, on its own, represents putting one’s best efforts forward. It is similar to the adverb いっしょうけんめい (isshoukenmei | 一層件名), which means to try as hard as one can. But as you’ve probably noticed, がんばって (ganbatte) is often used as it is the most common way to wish someone “good luck” at something!

Used in this way, it’s literally a command for someone to try their very hardest in any endeavor. It’s always used all on its own or right after the thing which requires one’s effort.

らいしゅうおきなわにサーフイングコンペをさんかしにいくつもりです(raishuu okinawa ni saafuingu konpe wo sankashi ni iku tsumori desu! | 来週沖縄にサーフイングコンペに行くつもりです)

Next week I plan to go to Okinawa to join a surfing competition!

そうか!いいからだってすげいな~よくがんばってね! (souka!? Iikaradatte sugeina~ yoku ganbatte ne! | そうか!いい体ってすげいな~よく頑張ってね!)

Really!? It sure is good to have a strong body. Good luck!

いますぐしまつしけんがあってちょうきんちょうしているよ (imasugu shimatsu shiken ga atte chou kinchoushiteru yo | 今すぐ始末試験があって彫緊張しているよ)

In no time, I have my final exam, and I’m super nervous.

ね!あたしもおなじじょうきょうよね!でもきんちょうするな~ぜったいにせいこうよ。がんばって!(ne! atashi mo onaji joukyou yo ne! demo kinchousuruna~ zettai ni seikou yo. ganbatte!|ね!あたしも同じ状況よね!でも緊張するな~絶対に成功だよ。頑張ってね!)

Right! I’m in the same situation! But don’t worry – you’ll definitely pass. Good luck!

Note: in anime, you’ll often hear がんばれ! (ganbare!) as opposed to what we just went over. This is a more shorthand and perhaps enthusiastic version of the same thing. Of course, you can also add words such as ください (kudasai) for a more polite version!

Saying “Good Luck” in Business meetings

  • けんとうをいのります (Kentou wo inorimasu | 健闘を祈ります)
  • こううんをいのります (koun wo inorimasu | 幸運を祈ります)

The first word in this Japanese expression for good luck, けんとう(kentou|健闘), means “fight.” The second, いのる (inoru | 祈る), means “to wish” or “to pray.” Basically, “I wish you a good, strong fight”… against whatever it might be!

祈る is also commonly used with 幸運 (kouun), the same word we went over around the onset of this article. The meaning is more or less exactly the same.

These are rather formal expressions that aren’t much used in casual conversation, so there’s a chance you’ll never hear them when conversing on the street. Instead, these expressions are likely to appear in professional situations, like during business meetings or large sporting announcements.

このもくようびにしてんちょうとだいじなかいぎがあるそうですねごけんとうをおいのりいたします (kono mokuyoubi ni shitenchou to daijina kaigi ga arusou desu ne. Gokentou wo oinori itashimasu | この木曜日に支店長と大事な会議があるそうですね。ご健闘をお祈りいたします)

I hear that you have a very important meeting with the branch manager this Thursday. Good luck!

Note: This is a formal expression used in formal situations – and it can still be made to sound more polite. There are a number of ways to emphasize how respectful this sounds, but one of them is ご健闘をお祈りいたします (gokentou wo oinori itashimasu), as you’ll find above.

With practice, you’re ears will start to pick up the patterns of highly formal speech immediately!

“Take care” as Good Luck?

Technically, this expression is used to tell someone to be careful or to take care of themselves. It can also be used as a “watch out!” in the right circumstances. But (as you guessed it), it is another way to wish someone good luck. Due to its inherent meaning, this kind of “good luck” is mostly said to those who are soon to find themselves in either dangerous or tricky circumstances.

Just as was reflected in the example above, we see that the Japanese tend to put faith in their own abilities to assure a good outcome more than anything else!

そろそろやきゅうしあいがあっていまでる。いってきます (sorosoro yakyuushiai ga atte, ima deru. ittekimasu | そろそろ野球試合があって今出る。いってきます)

It’s about time for my baseball game so I’ll go. See ya.

もうごじはんかな~きをつけて、ゆうた ( mou go ji han ka na~ Ki wo tsukete Yuuta | もう五時半かな~気を付けて、雄太)

Already 5:30 huh? Good luck Yuuta.

“Hope All Goes Well” as Good Luck

  • うまくいくといいね (umakuiku to iine)

うまく(umaku) is an adverb that means something is done “well’ or “successfully,” and いく (iku | 行く is the verb “to go.” いい(ii) is the adjective for “good” in Japanese. When you slap these together in this grammatical context, this Japanese expression for “good luck” translates more closely as “I hope it (all) goes well.”

This is not so common of an expression but does make an appearance sometimes in daily conversation.

あしたのびじゅってんうまくいくといいね (ashita no bijutten, umaku iku to ii ne | 明日の美術展)

I hope all goes well (good luck) at tomorrow’s art exhibition.

Poetic “good luck”

  • さちあれ (sachiare | 幸あれ)

You’ll notice that this kanji, 幸 (sachi) is the exact same kanji as used in 幸運 (kouun). Indeed, the characters are the same, except this word takes the kun-yomi, or Japanese-native reading of the character.

あれ (are), on the other hand, is an old way to give a command in Japanese. As such, this expression thus commands one’s luck!

This rather poetic expression is more likely to be found in a ballad or creative speech or something rather than in normal conversation.

あたらしいアパートにさちあれ (atarashii apaato ni sachiare! | 新しいアパートに幸あれ!)

Good luck with your new apartment!

“Good luck” in negative form

せいぜいがんばって (Seizei ganbatte | せいぜい頑張って) is another expression to use to “wish” someone luck, but it’s not quite as positive! This phrase originally had the very positive meaning of “to do everything in one’s power,” but over time, it grew into a more sarcastic and negative thing.

This is something you say to someone when you’re wishing them luck but are certain that they will fail in their attempts to succeed. The same thing is done in the English language, but the distinction is usually implied by tone alone! Check out these examples:

いつかかなだのおじょうさまになるはずだよ (itsuka kanada no ojousama ni naru hazu da yo | いつかカナダのお嬢様になるはずだよ)

One day I’m supposed to become the princess of Canada (you know?).

ま、まじか。。。せいぜいがんばったら (ma, majika?… seizei ganbattara | ま、まじか。。。せいぜい頑張ったる)

You don’t say? Well, good luck with that!

ね、レオナルドディカプリオってしているでしょ?じぶんのえんぎきょしさせたいな (ne, reonarudo dikapurio tte shitteiru desho? Jibun no engikyoshi sasetai na | ね、ね、レオナルドディカプリオってしているでしょ?自分の演技鋸歯させたいな)

Hey, you know Leonardo Dicaprio, right? I want to make him my personal acting teacher.

あっそ。ゆうじこそせいぜいがんばることだぞ (asso. Yuuji koso seizei ganbarugotodazo | あっそ。雄二こそせいぜい頑張ることだぞ)

Oh? Well, (if it’s you Yuuji,) good luck there!

Other words for “good luck” in Japanese

  • うんがいい (un ga ii|運がいい)

Without the aspect of “beauty” alongside it, 運 (un) still represents luck in Japanese. 運がいい(un ga ii) literally means “good luck.” One could also say うんがわるい (un ga warui | 運が悪い), which means “back luck”!

This is usually used to describe a person and, therefore, will precede the word ひと (hito | 人), which means “person” or “people” in Japanese… but it can be used for any living creature, really!

かのじょってなんてうんがいいひとよ! (kanojotte nante un ga ii hito yo! | 彼女ってなんて運がいい人よ)

She is so lucky! / She has such good luck!

  • ラッキー(rakkii)

This word derives directly from the English word “lucky” and is quite popular and casual amongst native Japanese speakers. The meaning and application are exactly the same and can be said to be equivalent to こううん (kouun | 幸運). This expression can be used for people or for other living things too.

なんとかあのとりはいぬにたべられなかった (nantoka ano tori ha inu ni taberarenakatta | 何とかあの鳥は犬に食べられなかった)

I don’t know how, but that bird wasn’t eaten by the dog.

ほんとう?あのとりはラッキーじゃん (hontou? Ano tori ha rakkii jan | 本当?あの鳥はラッキーじゃん)

Really? That’s a lucky bird.

Replying to “good luck” in Japanese

Of course, we don’t just ignore if someone has wished us good luck. Here are some responses you can use.

Formal way

When someone wishes you “good luck,” you can say, はい、がんばります (hai, ganbarimasu). This isn’t exactly considered formal, but it’s considered a natural way of replying to someone’s best wishes.

Casual way

うん、がんぶる (un, ganburu) can be used as a reply to your friends or family. You don’t want to use this phrase to your superiors as it is considered casual.

Simple way

Another way to respond to がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai) is a simple ありがとう (arigatou). This’ll express your feeling of thankfulness for their support.

Inappropriate Times to say “good luck” in Japanese

Symbols of Luck in Japan

Aside from the direct ways to wish someone good luck in Japanese, there are plenty of other symbols for good fortune in Japan. Here are a few of the more popular ones we’re sure you’ve come across at some point in your life!

Maneki Neko

まねきねこ (maneki neko|招き猫) is literally translated as the “welcome cat,” the maneki neko can be found all throughout Eastern Asia. Usually, they’re to be found either outside or around the reception of businesses.

Some would even refer to this cat as a “lucky cat.” Cats, in general, represent good luck in Japan, and the 招き猫 completes the rule and then some!

Koi

For a long time, these magical fish called こい (koi|鯉) have been treated as a sign of good fortune in China and Japan. They are said to represent longevity and perseverance and even make their appearance in celebration of some holidays! These fish are also known as (nishikigoi) in Japan.

Daruma

These red, round dolls called ダルマ (daruma) are designed in a way to never tip over no matter how they’re pushed, symbolizing perseverance and uprightness.

They are sold with blank eyes – one eye gets filled in when the owner makes a wish, and the other gets filled in once that wish comes true. You’ll find these having been donated to temples by those whose wish has been granted.

Omamori

During the New Year, stop by a shrine to buy an おまもり (omamori|お守り) for yourself or a loved one. These are talismans with powerful prayers kept inside the colorful fabric to be gifted and kept wherever you desire. There are several types of omamori, each targeting a different blessing!

Wrap Up

In conclusion, learning how to say “good luck” in Japanese is not only a linguistic accomplishment but also a valuable phrase to learn for expressing support and encouragement in various situations.

Imagine you have friends participating in a competition, a loved one transferring to a new school, or a family member starting a new job, using this phrase in Japanese adds happiness and a unique touch to your relationships.

Now that you already know this phrase, let’s cheer on those around us and spread positive vibes wherever we go. Are you excited to join this journey of well wishes?

がんばってください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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