The Japanese language has certain words and phrases that are so common, they actually become somewhat of a mindset or philosophy. One of those phrases is “shikata ga nai” and it’s common enough phrase to hear it used daily. What does shikata ga nai mean?
That will be covered in the beginning of today’s lesson. I’ll also go over some of the alternative spellings of it so that you recognize when you see or hear it.
Later on in another part of this post we will cover an alternative way to say this phrase which is actually more common to hear. This is mainly because it’s a more casual form of the phrase, but they are both essential to understand for conversational Japanese.
What Does Shikata Ga Nai Mean
The phrase shikata ga nai means “there’s no way” when translated directly into English. In order to really understand it, it helps to see how it’s written in Japanese.
In Japanese this phrase is spelled as 仕方が無い. The first part of it is 仕方 (shikata) which means “way; method” and can be understood as “a course of action” that one might take in any given situation.
The next part is が which is simply a particle, or a grammatical structure that is “gluing” 仕方 with the final part 無い (nai).
The last part 無い means “not” and is used to say that something doesn’t exist.
With that understanding of each part of the phrase, we can see that 仕方が無い means “there is no course of action (that one can take” or something like “there is nothing that one can do (in this situation).”
This is really what this phrase means. That “nothing can be done” to change the circumstances one finds oneself in.
This indicates that it’s a negative situation that cannot be changed. Because why would you complain about not changing a good situation?
In cases like this, the only thing that you can do is to accept it and move on with your life.
For example, let’s say that the government implements a new law and now you have to pay more taxes next year. It’s a bummer that your paycheck is going to be smaller, but there’s nothing that can be done. If you don’t pay your taxes, you’ll go to jail!
Another situation might be if you’re playing a game and you run into a super tough enemy that you’re not really prepared to deal with, and you’re unable to run away from the battle. It sucks, but you can’t do anything to change the situation. You simply have to deal with it.
It Can Also Be Used To Describe A Person
Another way that 仕方が無い can be used is to describe a person as “hopeless; annoying; troublesome” and the like.
This is kind of similar to the way dame can be used to say that a person is “no good.”
- shikata ga nai hito
- a hopeless person
We all know that one person who never changes and seems to bring their own problems onto themselves. That’s kind of the feeling of this usage.
Other Ways To Spell It
So far I’ve been using 仕方が無い to spell this phrase, but it’s actually more common to see it written as 仕方がない with the last word written entirely in hiragana.
Having said that, there are other ways that people say this word, or write it down. One such example is leaving out the が particle entirely and saying 仕方ない.
People also like to add on ending particles such as よ (yo) to add some assertion, or the ending particles な (na) or ね (ne) when they are looking for agreement from the listener.
There’s also a pretty common distortion of turning ない into ね or which gives it more of a casual feeling during conversation.
SIDEBAR: I was watching the first episode of the anime Claymore the other day and the village chief said 仕方あるまい (shikata aru mai).
This means the same thing, but this form is generally only ever used by old wizened men.
The interesting thing about 仕方がない is that the entire phrase itself has a casual alternative which is pretty common to use among friends and family. Let’s take a look at it now.
What Does Shou Ga Nai Mean
The Japanese phrase しょうがない (shou ga nai) is usually spelled entirely in hiragana like I’ve shown, but it does have an alternative spelling that involves kanji. That version is 仕様がない.
The phrase しょうがない means the same thing as 仕方がない and is used to say things like “it is what it is; it can’t be helped; nothing can be done.”
Again, this is a phrase that is generally used when a negative situation cannot be resolved and instead must be endured by the people in it.
Perhaps in reality something could be done to fix it, but it’s such a huge problem or a troublesome task that the person would just rather let it be.
For example, let’s say that you wake up in the morning and fix yourself a bowl of cereal only to discover that you’re completely out of milk.
The truth is that you could stop what you’re doing, hop into your car, and drive on over to the store to get some milk for your breakfast.
But that’s such a pain, isn’t it? You just woke up, you’ve got to eat and then get ready for work or school, and on top of that you really don’t feel like doing it.
That’s a situation where you might say “oh well” with しょうがない and decide to just eat your cereal dry.
By the way, it’s also common to change しょうがない into しょうがねぇなぁ (shou ga nē nā) when speaking casually.
The ない distorts into the ねぇ and then the ending particle な is elongated into the なぁ to give it that emotional feeling.
Now I Want To Hear From You
That’s all for today’s lesson on the meanings for both shikata ga nai and shou ga nai in Japanese.
If you’ve got any questions, then ask away!
Of if there’s just something that you would like to add to the conversation, then you can do so by leaving a comment in the section down below.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: