Even though there are a few Japanese words that are really difficult to translate to English (or Spanish), I thought this expression would be worth a try. Shouganai is a widely used phrase in Japan, and the philosophy behind it will take us into the very core of Japanese society.
Shouganai (しょうがない) is actually a shortened way of saying shiyou ga nai, translated as “there is no way of doing/going” or to accepting one’s fate. It is used interchangeably with shikata ga nai, which means exactly the same. I have seen that many Japanese people translates this expression as: “I can’t do anything, so I give up.” Ako, from NihongoNihongo gives a few examples:
-She was going to coming to our party but her schedule has been changed and she canceled. It’s “shouganai”.
-The shoes I wanted to buy were sold out when I went to the shop. I should’ve been there earlier. It’s “shouganai”. -I have wrinkles on my face and I don’t like them. It’s “shouganai”. If the topic is very serious like earthquake or someone’s death, you don’t say “shouganai”. “Shouganai” sounds too light for those serious situations.
There are also polite ways to say shouganai:
Casual しょうがない (shouganai)
Polite 仕方ない (shikatanai)
Extremely polite 致し方ない (itashikatanai)
“Historically, it has been applied to situations in which masses of Japanese people as a whole have been made to endure including the allied occupation of Japan and the internment of Japanese Americans. In 1975 when Emperor Showa was asked what he thought about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, he answered, “It’s very regrettable that nuclear bombs were dropped and I feel sorry for the citizens of Hiroshima but it couldn’t be helped because that happened in wartime.”” (Source)
Obviously, for those of us who were born in a western country, it might be difficult to understand this expression since culturally it seems like a lack of reaction to adversity or to a negative outcome. However, I believe shouganai should be seen like a healthy philosophy, or a healthier mindset if you will. Rather than criticizing its meaning, shouganai has to be understood as a sign of self-sacrifice and endurance, after all, if something is out of your control it’s better to quickly accept it and move on, right?
If you want to read a little bit more about this expression, these are some articles related to Shouganai:
- The curse of ‘shikata ga nai’ – JapanTimes
- THE BEAUTY AND BURDEN OF SHIKATA GA NAI – GaijinPot
- Shikata ga nai – BuddhistChurch
- SHIYOU GA NAI (SHOGANAI) IT AIN’T WHAT IT APPEARS TO BE – RanMagazine
- Shoganai: Accepting Your Fate in Japan – JapanTalk