The power of “shoganai”

Honestly in the past I truly hated to hear someone saying shoganai, but now I have to say I appreciate the power of shoganai. Previously when someone used the expression of shoganai I got the sense that someone is just simply not willing to go the extra mile and try a bit harder, but gives up too early. Actually shoganai (しょうがない) or shigata ga nai (仕方がない) as the more polite version of it, means that there is no way of doing, or nothing can be done. Some compare it to “c’est la vie”, but this french version focuses on external circumstances, in contrast then shoganai focuses on the inability of the actor to change those circumstances. So far quite often I had heard the shoganai expression, when someone in Japan just gave up to push the foreign side a bit further to get a situation resolved or making sure to be understood on a global scale. Most likely the explanation followed that someone non-Japanese cannot fully understand the needs of the Japanese market or the true Japanese soul. As you can imagine these words made me agitated every time.
On the other hand in the last few weeks I learned about the appropriateness of shoganai and the powerful message actually shoganai contains. As a consequence of the Tohoku earthquake eastern Japan is facing power shortage. Now wherever possible at home, in the office or at public spaces the use of electricity is cut. For example as the picture above shows escalators heading downwards are stopped at railway stations or department stores and supermarkets have dimmed their lightning. So far I had rather seldom seen Japanese very consciously saving energy. Additionally Japan as a very much service oriented country, the focus was on having tools, gadgets and every thinkable help to make every day life easy and comfortable, when the use of the needed energy was seldom questioned. Nowadays in Tokyo, I see no one complaining about the “new hardship” of everyday life, when people are willing to walk further or focus on an energy friendly every day life. The increased inconvenience is just shoganai, not worth to be mentioned and shrugged off easily.
As you can imagine these days I love the use of the word shoganai, making sure I do the extra mile, but not bother mentioning it.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

7 thoughts on “The power of “shoganai”

    • Dear Offshore Company,

      thank you very much for your comment. I have to confess, I am not sure whether I understand what you would like to tell me. The article above is focused on the meaning of shoganai.

      Looking forward to hearing more from you,

      Sibylle Ito

  1. Hello. I’m Japanese.So far I didn’t have a doubt about “shouganai”.
    However, as you say this phrase is strange.
    In a way this phrase shows Japanese patience.

    Anyway I also use “shouganai” sometimes, but I don’t like this phrase subconsciously.

  2. I had the exact same sentiment when I heard the use of the word, in essence for me, it meant the other person who said it “just gave up” with an “oh well” attitude”, but I can understand how this situation would apply completely differently.

    • Dear Elle Marie,

      I have to say, I truly appreciate your comments and time spend reading my articles.
      It took nine years in Japan and a big earthquake to change my viewpoint about shoganai. I can only hope the meaning will not shift too soon back to an easy excuse.

      All the best,


    • Dear Mark,

      thanks for taking time to visit this blog and even comment. I do appreciate your compliment and I am looking forward to seeing you here again.

      All the best,


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