Shouganai: It can’t be helped!: Getting my Zen On Part 3

Shouganai is a popular expression in Japan for bad or annoying things happen beyond one’s own control. It translates into “it can’t be helped.” For example, if traffic is bad or a teenager is being a teenager, “shouganai.”  In fact, a perfect shouganai moment is my post about the car engine stopping in the middle of the road.   To me, shouganai embraces getting one’s zen on.

Shouganai is used daily in rural Japan. When something unexpected or difficult occurs,  it is socially unacceptable to complain or vent. It is discouraged to be dramatic and lament.  While I personally think a good cry or venting session with friends can be great for one’s spirit and camaraderie, the shouganai attitude of moving forward, not burdening others, and accepting that difficulty happens are all helpful in getting more inner peace. Prayers are good too!

An internet search of “shouganai” reveals controversy around this expression. Most critiques are by non-Japanese, specifically foreigners from cultures that emphasize individual happiness over communal contentment (like Americans).  Critics claim that shouganai is a way to avoid responsibility for the outcome of one’s like. Some allege that it creates harmful apathy in the culture as people accept their circumstances as is and do not work to create progress. While some Japanese may use shouganai in this way, the true meaning of shouganai is “It can’t be helped” and it should only be used for circumstances no loner in our control. It is also a commitment to not complain and to move forward with what we can control and improve.

The point of shouganai is to let go only of what can’t be controlled and focus our energy on what we can do from wherever we are. It is important when letting go that we do not use it as a scapegoat to accept our own responsibility and work to make our lives and the world a better place. The thoughts and actions of other people is shouganai. The way we treat people, which can greatly affect their behavior, is not shouganai. Natural disasters are shouganai, but how we prepare for them and respond to them is not shouganai. Using shouganai to avoid personal action and growth is like praying to God for change us without using our free will to grow closer to Him.  So  in the Japanese spirit of shouganai, don’t get stuck in what you can’t control. Use what you have to move forward and move on.



  1. I certainly could use to adopt the attitude of shouganai. Do you anticipate a “Zen 4” or are you getting closer to finding yours?
    Thank you so much, honey, for letting me skype with Nico this morning!! I am so happy having seen and talked and laughed with him. I miss my grandboys very, very much. I miss my daughter very much too. I hope we can skype again before you leave Japan.
    love, mom/nonna xoxoxo

  2. Pingback: Traveling with Little Kids: Practical Tips | misomommy

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