Shoganai: Accepting Fate

  • 2 min read
Shoganai: Accepting Fate

You arrive at your favorite ramen shop to find a queue stretching all the way down the street… You step onto the platform just as your train pulls out of the station… The skies erupt with rain while you’re out walking without an umbrella… Shoganai!

Shoganai roughly translates to “it cannot be helped” or “nothing can be done about it”. It is a very common phrase in Japan. Shoganai expresses acceptance or resignation in a difficult situation, particularly one whose circumstances are out of your control. 

Shoganai: Accepting Fate

Most languages have an equivalent to Shoganai, such as “c’est la vie” in French or “it is what it is” in English. However, Shoganai is seen to have a particular significance in Japanese culture. Many writers think that Shoganai reflects a cultural attitude that allows Japanese people to endure great hardship with dignity and composure. While the phrase can be used in everyday situations like those above, it has also been said in reference to earthquakes, tsunamis, and even the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It is believed that Shoganai can help people to maintain perspective on a situation and move on to recovery or rebuilding.

Shoganai: Accepting Fate

However, Shoganai can also have negative connotations. Some view this resignation to fate as complacency and it has been linked to sociological issues and low voter turnout in Japan. Some people believe that young Japanese people do not trust the government’s ability to remedy political issues. Therefore, they view these issues as problems beyond their control and think “Shoganai” rather than advocating for change. On the other hand, considering that many languages also possess an equivalent to Shoganai, it is likely that it's only a small part of the whole picture.

So, keep an ear out the next time you are in Japan! You might hear people muttering Shoganai more often than you would expect.


About the author: 

Diarmuid O'ConnorDiarmuid O'Connor
Diarmuid is a writer and musician from Ireland, based in Tokyo. When not working on music in studios around the city, Diarmuid can be found in the bouldering gym, at the cinema, or enjoying a cold one in the local izakaya.

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Search our shop