Winner Takes All – 勝てば官軍、負ければ賊軍

Are you familiar with the Abba song ‘Winner Takes It All’? One of the particular lyrics in this classic is very close in nuance to the Japanese proverb below. It’s often used in business contexts to describe the situation where the successful are seen as right, and in contrast the unsuccessful are seen as wrong. Let’s see if we can tie in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Apple and Microsoft into one post too!


かてば かんぐん、まければ ぞくぐん

The Winner Takes It All, The Loser Has To Fall

It’s not a direct translation and a part of the Japanese is lost in translation, but the message is clear. Let’s explore more about the lost nuance from the original. Once you’ve understood the vocabulary and Kanji, visualising and understanding this useful business proverb should be quite easy!

First up, identifying the conditional form. There are two useful words worth learning in this proverb, which also happen to be a synonym and antonym. 勝つ (かつ) Win and 負ける (まける) Lose. In the potential form (the ability to do something) they become 勝てる (has the potential/ability to win) and 負けれる (has the potential/ability to lose). Modify that into the conditional form by changing the final る to ば. Hence, 勝てば (if [you] win) and 負ければ (if [you] lose).

Finally, the last vocabulary pair – 官軍 (governing army) and 賊軍 (rebel army). When we put it all together we get something that is literally translated like below:


かてば かんぐん、まければ ぞくぐん

If you win you’re the governing army, but if you lose you’re the rebel army.

In other words, if you win you’re seen as the correct power and if you lose you’re seen as the troublemaker who was wrong.

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9 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

      • Lee Aloy October 23, 2016 at 5:20 am #


        I am sorry to ask this silly question. Are you Japanese?
        am hoping to find a Japanese friends here please shot me an email:

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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