Suisei no Gargantia episode three has our main character Ledo wondering about the strange word “arigatou” the natives use to express gratitude. While the series implies neither side uses any contemporary language, much less Japanese, and the confusion is likely related to cultural differences between Ledo’s and Amy’s societies, it is true that “arigatou” is a very unusual word.
“Arigatou” most often gets translated as “thank you”, which is a viable translation in most any circumstances. But let us break the word up a little.
有り難う –> 有り + 難う
Arigatou –> Exist + Difficult
Let us turn the two keywords into an intelligible phrase:
It is difficult to exist.
The above enigmatic statement does not seem to convey too much gratitude, but it is part of a larger Buddhist idea. All beings are trapped within the cycle of reincarnation, moving between several realms. Low in the hierarchy are hungry spirits and animals, high up devas, with humans in between. But it is as a human that any being is regarded to have the highest chance of breaking free from the cycle and attaining Nirvana/the state of the Buddha. Time spent as a human should then be regarded as the ultimate opportunity and the most valuable treasure.
It is a rare chance to be born and exist as a human. The word “arigatou” was originally used to show appreciation and thanks to the compassion and blessings received from the Buddha. Used in everyday situations, it has now become a way to acknowledge the rare beauty of the moments when we are showered by the kindness of another.