Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Be Genki

Posted on: March 19, 2011

Be genki (GEHN-kee) is not just an expression; it isn’t just an exhortation.  Genki is an attitude, a mindset, a way of life.

Genki means ‘healthy.’  It is used when asking “How are you?” (ogenki desuka?).  You would respond, “I’m fine” (genki desu, or just genki).

But this is not a language lesson.  This is about the Japanese mindset; they exist in an almost spiritual state of genki.

Let’s use just one sad event in modern history to illustrate how this attitude was manifest.

The Nagasaki Peace Bell - now located at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Photo credit: unknown

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were a crushing blow to the nation and to each of its people, as you can well imagine.  By 1950, fully 350,000 people had died either directly or subsequent to the fact.  Everyone knew someone who had died or was injured.

If you go today to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, you’ll find a country that accepts all responsibility for bringing this fate upon itself; a nation humbled.  This place is so moving to the visitor that it causes one to tear up.

These events brought about a time of soul-searching, of reclaiming purpose, of rebuilding.

Genki means ‘strong, positive.’  It is the foundation of the Japanese national spirit.  Now, as before, Genki is drawn upon for the strength to recover.  It was explained to me this way: “We’ve been through it before; we can recover again.  Be genki!”  This isn’t a superficial expression…they really mean it.

The Japanese are nothing if not a people that cares for its elderly and its young.  Examples of this are very visible parts of the national culture.  So, how do you explain the current-day problems at the Fukushima Nuclear power plant to grade school kids?  With strength and a positive attitude.  And with humor.

YouTube: Nuclear Boy (4:34) English subtitles

As you can see, Nuclear Boy explains the problem in a way children can understand.  It’s informative and funny: what kid doesn’t have a full appreciation for anything related to the subject of poop?  This video tries to tell the truth, and may be overly optimistic.  Nevertheless, someone thought it necessary to produce this explanation (a time-intensive job accomplished in just two days) to encourage the children.

That’s what the Japanese do.  When they’re not telling you to be genki, they’re saying “Ganbatte!” (gahn-BAH-tay) which means, “Give it all you’ve got.”  “Do the best with what you have.”  “We’re all in this together.”  “Press forward.”

The Japanese really liked Barack Obama’s campaign slogan: “Yes we can!”  It was right up their alley.  Obama posters were plastered everywhere in 2008.  The message fed their national spirit.

So, be genki.  And ganbatte!  Your response should be, “ganbatte-mas” (I’m giving it everything I can).

Somehow, I think the good people of Japan will get through their current problems.

%d bloggers like this: