No one ever said life was meant to be easy, but some people lead lives straight out of a bad Hallmark movie (or a particularly good episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.) Whether they are creating the chaos in their lives themselves or they are the victims of the fickle finger of fate, haranbanjo is the word to describe the ups and downs of a tumultuous life, event or situation.

And yes, you can totally use it as shade.

Haranbanjo (波乱万丈)

Meaning: Stormy and full of drama, drastic changes in the course of events, full of ups and downs, with many vicissitudes, rapidly changing environment or situation, a checkered life

Literal translation and kanji breakdown: Haranbanjo can either be written as 波乱万丈 or 波瀾万丈. Haran (波乱) encompasses the words waves and revolt, while haran (波瀾) gives us a double set of large waves. Both compounds express undulating waves and fast changes — both real and metaphorical. If you’re using just haran on its own to mean troubles or disturbances, then the character set 波乱 is most appropriate. As for banjo (万丈), as a two-character compound, it serves as a contrast to the negativity of haran and means congratulations or a long life. Individually, ban (万) means something total and absolute, as well as the number 10,000. Jo (丈) serves as a symbol of measurement, as well as the meaning of only, or merely.

Haranbanjo: The Origins

Unfortunately, we don’t know the origin of haranbanjo. You can, however, find it used in Hisashi Inoue’s novel Tegusari Shinju (Shackled Double Suicide in English), which won the Naoki Prize in 1972.

Haranbanjo: Related Expressions

山あり谷あり Yama ari tani ari Ups and downs
波乱曲折 Haran-kyokusetsu Complicated twists and turns, deeply entrenched troubles
紆余曲折 Uyo-kyokusetsu Complications, twists and turns, meandering

Using “haranbanjo” in a sentence

昼のドラマは、視聴者を釘付けにするために波乱万丈のストーリーとなっている。Hiru no drama wa, shichousha wo kugitsuke ni suru tame ni haranbanjo no story to natteiru. Daytime dramas have tumultuous storylines to hook viewers.

今回の東京オリピックは、コロナの影響で波瀾万丈の展開となることが予想される。Konkai no Tokyo Olympics wa, corona no eikyo de haranbanjo no tenkai to naru koto ga yoso sareru. Because of Covid-19, the Tokyo Olympics are expected to be full of drama this time around.

彼の一生は小説みたいに波瀾万丈だ。Kare no issho wa shosetsu mitai ni haranbanjo da. His whole existence is straight out of a story book.

Want more? Follow our Japanese Idiom series. Learn the meaning of “shichiten-hakki” here, “ichibushiju” here and “fugenjikko” here.