The Real Meaning of ‘Genki’ (元気)

Having lived in Japan for almost 2 years, and having studied the language for about 6 years, I’ve come to understand a bit about Japan’s rich culture and its fascinating language.

In Japanese, there is a very commonly used word, known as ‘Genki’ (元気). Anyone who’s studied Japanese surely knows this word, as it’s used in the Japanese equivalent of “how are you?”, which is “元気ですか?”, or “Genki desu ka?” (literally, are you ‘Genki’?).

The word is commonly translated as ‘fine’, but I feel that this translation doesn’t do the word justice. The word has a much deeper meaning. Thankfully, Japanese script includes the use of ‘Kanji’ (漢字), which are Chinese characters, and because each character has it’s own meaning, we can get a feel for what this word really means.

Let’s break this word down into its two components. The first character is ‘元’, pronounced as ‘gen’ which means ‘origin’. The second character ‘気’, pronounced ‘ki’ means ‘energy’, or ‘spirit’. So if we look at these two together, we get ‘original energy’, or ‘original spirit’.

So what does it mean? “Are you ‘original energy’?” doesn’t really make to sense to the average person.

Think about how you were as a child, compared to now. Are you the same person now, as you were as a child? If you’ve ever spent time around young children, you might have noticed that they have a lot of enthusiasm, energy and natural curiosity about the world. Young children seem so happy and full of life, and they are so unburdened by stress and expectations of modern society.

When you compare this to the average adult, you see that most adults are usually very busy with many responsibilities, such as work, paying bills, supporting a family, ect. A lot of adults live very stressful lives in today’s society.

Compare these adults to children. What’s the difference? It’s as if the responsibilities and expectations of society have burdened adults so much, to the point of taking away that ‘original energy’, or ‘original spirit’ that they once had as a young child. This kind of adult is no longer ‘Genki’.

The energy and enthusiasm we all had as children is our natural, or original state of being. It’s the restrictions placed on us by societal norms, and the burdens placed on us by our modern adult lives that dim the light of our original energy.

Those who are truly ‘Genki’ are those who follow their heart’s desire, who live their lives to the fullest, without worrying about what others will think of them. They are the ones who are bold enough to be themselves, to let their true selves shine, in spite of any negativity they may receive from others. This is how we all lived as children, before we were ‘programmed’ to act and think a certain way by family, peers, and society.

As you can see, saying “元気です” (I’m Genki) carries a lot more meaning than it’s translated English counterpart “I’m fine”. So are you ‘Genki’? If not, it’s time to start returning to your inner child 😉

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