What is the Japanese symbol for patience? The 5 best options

The first thing that should be said is that there isn’t really one perfect equivalent word in Japanese for the English word “patience”.

All the Japanese words that come close all have connotations of “endurance” and “being able to stand” something. There isn’t really a word that means something like “being able to wait without getting annoyed or anxious”. In Japanese, this idea is inexorably entwined with the idea of more actively achieving something. Which could be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you see it…

How is “patience” pronounced in Japanese?

The most common Japanese word for “patience” is pronounced nintai (忍耐).

There is also commonly used word “Gaman (我慢). You hear this word very often in modern Japan, but gaman is probably closer to words like “Endure”, “or put up with” in the English language. 

Different ways of how “patience” can be expressed in Japanese characters and symbols

1. 忍耐 (nintai)

Nintai means endurance, perseverance or patience. This is probably the closest word to “patience” in Japanese.

The first symbol is read alone as Nin or shinobi(忍び) which has quite a few fairly different meanings. In the sense of “patience”, it takes on meanings of “endure, bear, put up with”. But in another sense it can also take on meanings of “conceal, hide, secret, spy, or sneak”. 忍 is the same first character as the “Nin” part of “Ninja”, which literally means something like “a person who is good at hiding and spying”.

The second symbol in 忍耐 (Nintai) is read as ta or taeru(耐える) which means “resistant” or “something-proof”, think “rain-proof”, or enduring. 

Example sentences:


Seinen jidai no nintai to doryoku ni yotte, kare wa genzai no mibun ni nareta node aru.

His perseverance and diligence in his youth have made him what he is today.


Nintai ga iru

To require patience

Words that use characters from 忍耐 (Nintai)


As it is read, ninja or shinobi (忍び) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of a ninja included reconnaissance, espionage, infiltration, deception, ambush, bodyguarding and their fighting skills in martial arts, including ninjutsu.

Example sentences;:


Ninja gokko wo shiyou.

Let’s play ninja.


Naruto ya sasuke nado ga ninja datta.

Naruto and Sasuke were ninjas.

2. 辛抱 (shinbou)

Shinbou means patience or endurance. The first symbol is read alone as kara or karai(辛い) which means spicy, bitter, hot or acrid while the second symbol means embrace, hug, hold in arms and is read along as daku or idaku(抱く). So the sense of this word is “to embrace the bitter”. So, once again, you get a word that is probably closer to the English word to “Endure” rather than to be “patient”.

Example sentences:


Ishi no ue mo sannen toiu janai. Mou sukoshi shinbou shinasai yo.

Don’t they say “that you have to wait three years on a rock” to achieve anything? Please be patient a little longer. 


Tatoe toko e ikou tomo, shinbou shinakute wa seikou dekinai.

Wherever you may go, there is no success without perseverance.

3. 根気(konki)

Means tenacity, spirit, patience, perseverance, persistence, or energy. The first symbol is read alone as ne (根) which means root while the second symbol means spirit, mind or air and is read alone as ki(気). So here we get the sense of a “spirited with roots in the ground”. 

Example sentences:


Mou sukoshi konki ga attara seikou shite ita darou.

With a little more grit, you may well have succeeded.


Kono shu no shigoto ni wa taihen na konki ga hitsuyou to sareru.

This sort of job calls for a lot of resilience.

4. 石の上にも三年 (Ishi no ue sannen) – Proverb

There is a proverb that is commonly used in Japan to mean “have patience”. The full proverb is:

「石の上にじっと3年も座っていれば、石も暖まる」(Ishi no ue ni jitto san nenn mo suwatteireba, ishi mo atatamaru)

This literally translates as “Even a rock will warm up if you sit on it for three years”.

The meaning of this is that if you keep at anything for a long time (symbolically listed here as 3 years) you are bound to succeed, or at least to achieve a change of some sort.

The full proverb is usually shortened to just 石の上にも三年 (Ishi no ue sannen)、 which translates a “Three years on a rock”.

There are a few theories as to where the proverb itself originated. The most popular one is that it comes from the story of the Chinese monk who started the Zen school of buddhism. Named “Daruma” in Japan, he is said to have sat in a cave for 9 years staring at a rock wall before he attained enlightenment. Luckily, popular consensus has reduced the period from 9 years to 3 years, giving us all a collective discount of 6 years in our quest to achieve our goals. Bonus!

5. 我慢 (gaman)

As the most common symbols from this set of words, gaman also means endurance, perseverance, tolerance, self-control, self-denial or patience. 

The first symbol is read alone as ware or just wa(我) which means “self”. The second symbol is read as man (慢) which means ridicule or laziness. So this word literally means something like “to be hard on oneself”.

Example sentences:


Watashi wa mou kare no ano ijiwaru na taido ni gaman dekinai.

I can’t stand that nasty attitude of his any longer.

Gaman dekinai(我慢できない) is commonly used phrase if you want to express that you can’t stand or you don’t have any more patience for something or someone.


Kare no ouhei na taido ni wa mou gaman naranai.

His arrogance is no longer tolerable.

What other words are in the Japanese symbol for “gaman” used in?

  1. 我々(wareware)

Means “we”, “our “orus”.

Example sentences:


Wareware wa ooki na tsutsumi wo uketotta.

We received a parcel of great bulk.


Wareware no hoken nohani wa tayou na songai ni oyobimasu.

Our insurance policy covers various kinds of damages.

  1. 我国(wagakuni)

Means our country, our land, one’s own country. The second symbol is read as kuni(国) which means country or land.

Example sentences:


Kono mamade wa wagakuni no kokusaikyousouryoku wa sara ni teika suru osorega ookii.

At this rate the risk is high that our country’s competitive position will drop even further.


Kare wa wagakuni no houritsu ni ihanshita.

He committed an offense against our country’s laws.

  1. 怠慢 (taiman)

Taiman means negligence, neglect. The first symbol is read alone as okota or okotaru(怠る) which means to neglect, or laziness. While the second symbol means wide or beautiful and is read as man(慢).

Example sentences:


Sono jiko no sekinin wa kanri hito no taiman ni aru.

The accident was due to the negligence of the caretaker.


Kare wa gimu taiman de hinan sareta.

He was blamed for neglect of duty.

  1. 自慢(jiman)

Means pride or boast. The first symbol 自 is read as mizukara(自ら) or onozukara(自ずから) which means oneself, or self.

Example sentences:


Wareware ga jikoku no furui jiin wo jiman ni omou no wa touzen no koto da.

We may well take pride in our old temples.


Kare wa nyuugaku shiken ni goukaku shita koto wo jiman shita.

He is proud that he passed the entrance exam.

How is the idea of “patience” different in Japan from the West?

In the Western world, patience is often seen as a virtue. However, in Japan, the idea of patience is slightly different. For the Japanese, patience is not about waiting for something to happen, but about calmly enduring something that is unpleasant. This idea can be seen in the way that the Japanese deal with difficult situations and relationships.

How is “patience” expressed in Chinese?

耐心 Nàixīn is one way that “patience” is expressed in Chinese. The first symbol 耐 means resistant, while the second symbol 心 means heart which has the same meaning and writing as the Japanese symbol for heart.

Stroke order for writing the characters in Japanese “patience” and associated symbols.

  1. 忍耐(nintai)


  1. 辛抱 (shinbou)
  1. 根気 (konki)
  1. 我慢 (gaman)
  1. 我国 (wagakuni)
  1. 怠慢 (taiman)
  1. 自慢 (jiman)
  1. 忍者 (ninja)

So should you get “patience” done as a tattoo in Japanese lettering?

If you are happy to have a tattoo that means something a little closer to “endurance”, “being able to stand something” or “resilience”, as well as “patience” per se, then Japanese has some good options.

In contrast to some of the other English words, such as say “faith”, “dream” or “wisdom“, there are no single character equivalents for “patience”. You need to use at least two characters to achieve the effect. So the design will inevitably be busier and take up more room.


Article by Dhanie James Perez

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