As Japan’s university entrance exams kick off in mid January, it’s a stressful time for high school students. For those who do well (at least from a traditional perspective on life goals), it’ll be a case of zento-yoyo: their future is full of hope.

Zento-yoyo (前途洋洋)

Meaning: a rosy future, promising prospects, an indication of a bright future, a promising future awaits, the world is your oyster, the future is full of hope

Literal translation and kanji breakdown: Breaking the first half down gives us 前 (zen), which means in front/ahead, followed by 途 (to), meaning road/route. As for 洋 (yo), it means the ocean or sea. Since it’s doubled up, it can also be written 前途洋々, using the kanji repetition mark 々. 

Fun fact: The 々 mark is not a kanji character but a combination of the katakana characters ノ (no) and マ (ma). It doesn’t have its own reading so it is referred to as ノマ点 (noma-ten, noma mark) or simply as 同の字点 (dounoji-ten, kanji iteration mark).

Zento-yoyo: The Origins

Zento is self-explanatory: it means the road or journey ahead, implying a person’s future. The doubling of the ocean character brings forth images of the open sea — a place of endless prospects and adventures. Combining the two, it’s easy to picture a person on the verge of embarking on a new voyage, full of expectations. 

Zento-yoyo: Related Expressions

  • 前途有望 Zento-yubou A promising future
  • 前途多難 Zento-tanan Having many difficult prospects in store, a grim future
  • 前途遼遠 Zento-ryoen A goal, destination

Using “zento-yoyo” in a sentence

Zento-yoyo is used extensively at graduation speeches and the like, so you may see it crop up a lot later this spring, once university exam results are released and graduation ceremonies take place.

隆くんは、日本で一番良い大学に合格したので、前途洋洋な滑り出しだ。Takashi-kun wa, Nihon de ichiban ii daigaku ni goukaku shita no de, zento-yoyo na suberidashi da. Takashi got into the best university in Japan, so he is off to a great start.

結婚したばかりで、二人の人生は前途洋洋だね!Kekkon shita bakkari de, futari no jinsei wa zento-yoyo da ne! They’ve just gotten married — it looks like it’ll be a bright future for those two.

成人式に出た若者を見ると自分が前途洋洋の気分だった頃を思い出した。Seijinshiki ni deta wakamono wo miru to jibun ga zento-yoyo no kibun datta koro wo omoidashita. Seeing young people at the coming-of-age ceremony reminds me of when I used to feel like I had a bright future ahead of me. 


Wakuchin no sesshu de kaigai ni ikeru kanosei ga detekita no de, kazoku wo ai ni ikitai hito ni totte wa zento-yoyo no shirase da. The start of the corona vaccination is good news for those who want to visit their family members abroad, as it has opened up the possibility of traveling overseas.

Want more? Follow our weekly Yojijukugo Japanese Idiom series, published every Friday. Learn the meaning of “shinki-itten” here, “souseki-chinryu” here and “gyuinbashoku” here.