I've never particularly felt like posting the yoji 一生懸命(いっしょうけんめい；isshoukenmei), because... well, because it's so common that it doesn't even feel like a yoji to me. After all, it's probably the yoji that's used most frequently in conversation, and I know that both Brett and I had each used it hundreds of times before we even knew that it was a yoji.
I even remember the first time I came across it, in my first Japanese text book. It was written in romaji, and it was defined simply as an adverb meaning : "hard," as in "I study hard." Not a particularly auspicious introduction.
But then I remembered that it wasn't until I came to Japan that I actually started to use it when I spoke (because everyone here says it) and that somewhere along the line someone mentioned to me that the Japanese version of doing something "hard" carried the nuance of expending all of the effort of your heart, your soul, your entire life. And this nuance is buried in the kanji that this yoji is constructed with. 一生懸命 can mean "for dear life," even when applied to innocuous things like studying or playing badminton, because if you do them seriously, you put all of yourself into them.
So with this post, I wanted to take care of the fact that I've neglected the most common yoji ever for far too long, but I was still worried that too many of my readers might see an 一生懸命 post and go, "Meh. I already knew that...." So I did some digging and I did some talking and I found an alternate yoji that will cause more of an impact when you say it. Here you go.
1. Intense concentrated effort in one specific direction
2. Single-minded devotion to something (more likely to be a goal than a person)
3. Unwavering concentration
"One heart, no rebellion" according to the kanji. You might recognize the 乱 from words like 乱暴、or ... other words that use 乱. The idea is that when you're in this state of mind, nothing breaks your concentration. The example I got (mundane as it may seem) was that if you're working at your desk, and you're really into it, and a mosquito starts draining your blood and you don't even notice, 「一心不乱に働いている」と言われる.
At Nishi Kawasoe Elementary, we Takeshita-sensei and Kyoto-sensei and I had a long talk about these two yojis (whose meanings are 大同小異) and how they were different. Here's what you should know.
一心不乱 is not used with imperative forms. You can't say 「一心不乱頑張ってください。」
Opinions (two of them) are divided as to which of the two expressions is stronger. Takeshita-sensei contends that 一生懸命 implies that 「命を懸ける」; in the original meaning, your life is at stake, so 一生懸命 has the more powerful meaning. But he was forced to concede to the point Kyoto-sensei made: In modern Japanese, 一心不乱 is rarer, and 一生懸命 is so common that people (like me) don't tend to really HEAR it, any more than they really HEAR an お疲れ様 at the end of the day. If one was to say 一心不乱 in it's place, they'd be more like to grab the listener's attention.
So the consensus (of two) was that while 一生懸命 is stronger in meaning, 一心不乱 is stronger in terms of impact when used.
- 不乱 is pronounced like "fran."
- The following video is an example of someone who DOESN'T know the meaning of either of today's yoji, and needs to be reminded: 「自転車を乗り、調子乗ってんじゃね！
Since I was a kid, my dream has been to become a novelist. But even though I've written volumes of my own fiction, I've never REALLY tried to sell anything. So from here on out, I'm going to focus all of my efforts on making my dream come true.