The Strange Thing About Writing ‘Thank You’ in Japanese

When life is full of good miracles

Kaki Okumura
3 min readAug 27, 2021


Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

It never occurred to me before, but the Japanese characters for “thank you” are composed of two unlikely words:

有: To have, possess

難: Difficulty, hardship

有難う: Thank you

What a strange combination of words.

Why the characters for ‘thank you’ is ‘difficult to have’

While many Japanese words directly come from Chinese, such as weather (天気) or emergency (緊急), this is not the case for the term arigato, or ‘thank you’. Instead, the characters for the term were thought to be developed by Buddhist linguists, based on their beliefs toward gratitude.

Arigato means that good things in life are never obvious or a natural human right, but to be able to say thank you is actually a miracle in life. There are so many things that can come in the way of something not happening or manifesting — wrong place, wrong time, wrong person, wrong words — and consequently everything good that happens to us is a combination of many miracles. The ability to say thank you is in fact, something difficult to have.

Arigato (有難う) = thank you

Arigatai (有難い) = grateful

The words ‘thank you’ and grateful are actually very similar in Japanese. While thank you reads as arigato, grateful reads as arigatai, and many Japanese people see the two concepts as one and the same. To be thankful is not just to be pleased or relieved, but is also to be grateful, which is to feel appreciation for something done or received.

Living is the world’s greatest coincidence, all things considered with the universe’s billions and billions of possibilities. To have restful sleep, nourishing meals, the ability to move, and sincere relationships — on the daily we might find that they are obvious rights to possess, but upon closer inspection we realize that they are the outcomes of many odds, and that to have it is something to feel grateful for.

So the next time you have the opportunity to say thank you, it may be worthwhile to also take the time to remember that it is not such an obvious thing to be able to say. While there is gratitude to be found everyday, to say the words thank you is also the belief that you are living a miracle.

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Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: 🌱