Shikata ga nai
Shikata ga nai (仕方がない), pronounced [ɕi̥kata ɡa naꜜi], is a Japanese language phrase meaning "it cannot be helped" or "nothing can be done about it". Shō ga nai (しょうがない), pronounced [ɕoː ɡa naꜜi] is an alternative.
The phrase has been used by many western writers to describe the ability of the Japanese people to maintain dignity in the face of an unavoidable tragedy or injustice, particularly when the circumstances are beyond their control, somewhat similar to "c'est la vie" in French. Historically, it has been applied to situations in which masses of Japanese people as a whole have been made to endure during World War II, including the Allied occupation of Japan and the internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians. Thus, when Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) was asked, in his first ever press conference given in Tokyo in 1975, what he thought of 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."
In Asian American Women: The "Frontiers" Reader, author Debbie Storrs states:
The Japanese phrase shikata ga nai, or "it can't be helped," indicates cultural norms over which one has little control... This notion of suffering in part stems from shikata ga nai: failing to follow cultural norms and social conventions led to a life of little choice but endurance of suffering.
The phrase also can have negative connotations, as some may perceive the lack of reaction to adversity as complacence, both to social and political forces. In a Business Week article, a Western businessman says of Japanese people:
He encourages Japanese not to succumb to the shikata ga nai mentality but to get angry and start behaving like citizens. 'Japanese people listen to me because I'm always pushing what the possibilities are and how things can change... to ensure positive economic and political prospects...'
Non-Japanese literary references
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The phrase appears as an important theme in a range of books relating to major events in the history of the Japanese people. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar devoted a chapter to the concept to explain why the Japanese Americans interned in the US during World War II did not put up more of a struggle against the restrictive conditions and policies put upon them. The historical manga Barefoot Gen shows many of the citizens in Hiroshima using the phrase "Shikata ga nai" to explain why they accept the military rule, and the acceptance of the below-poverty conditions that cause many of their citizens to starve. Similarly, John Hersey's Hiroshima applies the phrase after efforts to assist fatally injured hibakusha ceased.
In the book The Hostile Beaches by Gordon D. Shirreffs, the character Lieutenant Carney says the phrase. When asked what it means, he says it means "Let's get to work", not knowing its actual meaning. Later, Bob Dunbar says the words to confuse searching Japanese soldiers.
Kim Stanley Robinson also includes the phrase in his book Red Mars. The phrase is spoken by Hiroko early on in the Mars colonization: "It was Hiroko who cut Arkady off, with what she said was a Japanese commonplace: 'Shikata ga nai,' meaning there is no choice" (100). Pt 8, the final chapter of the book, is also called Shikata ga nai.
The phrase has been adopted by the Metasploit computer penetration framework as the name of a shellcode encoder. It uses polymorphic XOR additive feedback to ensure that the output of the "Shikata ga nai" encoder is different every time. As such antivirus products have no chance of detecting the malicious code by using a known blacklist.
The phrase appears in the lyrics of the song Kantori Ongaku by Devendra Banhart, and also in the song Acheron by DIIV.
- A similar saying exists in China, 没办法 (méi bàn fǎ), and Korea, 어쩔 수 없다 (eojjeol su eopda), which is used in similar situations as "shō ga nai".
- The French saying c'est la vie has some similarities.
- Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston Farewell to Manzanar. 2002, page 9
- H. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of modern Japan, 2001, p.676; John Dower, Embracing Defeat, 1999, p.606
- Linda Trinh Vo, Marian Sciachitano, In Asian American Women: The "Frontiers" Reader. University of Nebraska Press. p. 113. ISBN 0-8032-9627-4. Google Books. Retrieved May 15, 2006.
- "Neff, Robert, (Oct. 30, 2000). Japan Explained. Business Week.
- Gordon D. Shirreffs (1964). The Hostile Beaches. The Westminster Press. pp. 83, 97.
- Willard Price: Children of the Rising Sun (1938); Japan and the Son of Heaven (1945); et al
- Robinson, Kim Stanley. "Red Mars. New York: Bantam Books. 1993.
- "Polymorphic XOR Additive Feedback Encoder". rapid7.com.
- "mei ban fa | Definition | Mandarin Chinese Pinyin English Dictionary | Yabla Chinese". chinese.yabla.com. Retrieved 2020-02-08.