Shoganai

Readers of this blog will know I take an interest in curious Japanese phrases that we don’t have in English or are difficult to translate. I’ve previously talked about yūgen and wabi-sabi.

Today, whilst reading Brad Warner’s blog I came across ‘shoganai’

I was invited as a guest of this group to present what it is that I do to them. In this case, the fact that people were sitting on chairs was shoganai as we say in Japan. It can’t be helped. It’s just the way things are. What can ya do? Shoganai is a very useful and utterly untranslatable phrase.

A Wikipedia search for shoganai links to a page on ‘Shikata ga nai’, of which shoganai is an alternative.

Shikata ga nai (仕方がない?), pronounced [ɕi̥kata ɡa nai], is a Japanese language phrase meaning “it can’t be helped” or “nothing can be done about it”. Shō ga nai (しょうがない?), pronounced [ɕoː ɡa nai] is an alternative.

There is also an enigmatic webpage dedicated to the phrase

literally, there is no way of doing, or nothing can be done. Shoganai is the equivalent of c’est la vie, but with an important difference: where c’est la vie and its foreign variants focus on external circumstances, shoganai focuses on the inability of the actor to change those circumstances.

Given the tragedies that have beset the Japanese people, its unsurprising they have such a word.

It makes me think of, and gives me an excuse to repost, this quote from Shunryu Suzuki

One day Suzuki Roshi said, “Life is basically impossible.” Then he got up and left the zendo. The next day a student asked, “Suzuki Roshi, yesterday you said that life is basically impossible. What are we going to do?”

“You do it,” he replied, “every day.”