Japanese expression: “七光り” (nana hikari) – Benefits received on account of a father

By | October 5, 2018

In this post I’d like to introduce another expression that I picked up from everyday conversation with a Japanese native speaker: “七光り” (“nanahikari”)

You may have noticed that this word literally means “seven lights”, but out of context it is hard to guess what it actually means. So let’s look at an example sentence.

  • 彼は親の七光りでその会社についたよ。 (kare wa oya no nanahikari de sono kaisha ni tsuita yo)

Now can you guess what this expression means? The above can be roughly translated as:

  • He got a job at that company thanks to his father.

In a more general sense, “nanahikari” refers to receiving some benefit(s) thanks to one’s father, especially with respect to a successful career. This expression can also be used in isolation without actually referring to the father, for example:

  • あいつは七光りだ (aitsu wa nana hikari da)

This one is a bit tricky to translate into English without the context. In some situations you could probably translate it as, “That guy didn’t earn it himself.”

Though I didn’t realize it when I first heard this expression, it is generally used with a negative connotation. The idea is that the person in question obtained something as a result of their father that they normally wouldn’t have been able to, and therefore probably didn’t deserve. Sometimes you can pick up this negative feeling from tone of voice or wording in the sentence. For example, in the above sentence, the word “aitsu” is a pronoun with a negative connotation.

I was curious why the number “seven” was used and this site indicates that it simply means “many” as opposed to any specific number. It also says the expression was originally “親の光は七光り” (“oya no hikari wa nana hikari”, literally: “The parent/father’s light is seven lights”). I gather than the “seven lights”––or should I say the “many lights”––represent the father’s influence or power, which known as “威光” (“ikou”) in Japanese.

I also found this post where someone gives a personal theory about the origin of this phrase (in Japanese). I’m not sure if it’s true, but check it out if you are looking for little advanced reading practice.



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