What is the closest expression in Japanese that conveys a similar meaning to the English idiom "that ship has sailed", referring to an "missed opportunity" and "it's too late (to do anything about it)"?

The English phrase to me is discouraging and has a sense of futility, so I would like the Japanese expression to convey a similar feeling.

For the context in which I would like to use this Japanese phrase, here is a conversation alternating between two friends of a bachelor with feelings for someone named Karen:

  • I thought he had eyes for Karen.
  • Yeah, he told me that, too.
  • Well she graduated and went back to Sweden. I heard she found a good job there in her field.
  • Right, I think he had wanted to propose to her, but you know what's up. She still has a life and likes living nearby her relatives in Stockholm.
  • Indeed. Whatever he tries at this point may be too little too late.
  • I agree; she really likes him, but I think that ship has sailed.

EDIT: @Mindful suggested 時すでに遅し, which seems to be a common expression for "it's too late" and the Webolio dictionary lists it directly under the "that ship has sailed" idiom. I can't help but feel that this phrase sounds slightly plain compared to "that ship has sailed" even though the meaning may be correct.

In contrast, I have found 後の祭り as another expression used to express a similar meaning to "that ship has sailed" and it also seems to be somewhat less straightforward than simply 時すでに遅し. Would greatly appreciate if anyone could point out the nuance between these two phrases.

2 Answers 2


I personally think 時すでに遅し is fine (時すでに遅し is an idiomatic phrase which is not based on plain modern Japanese grammar), but if you want "more idiomatic" ones, you may use the following expressions:

後の祭り is also fine.


Welcome to the Japanese language stack exchange! In general, we'd like to see previous research efforts for questions like this (as described here; trying some online dictionaries is usually a good start). That said, it's your first question and this is a great expression that I didn't know in Japanese either.

It looks like the expression you're looking for is:


according to Weblio. The definitions given here are also pretty in line with the feelings of "that ship has sailed".

  • Thank you! Japanese-Japanese dictionaries are still slightly intimidating to me, but I will try utilising them more in the future! With regards to the 時すでに遅し, is it correct to think that it has quite a straightforward meaning along the lines of "the time is already late"? Is there any difference between it and using something like "もう遅い”? Lastly, I have found the phrase "後の祭り” which seems to be used in the same way as "that ship has sailed", but I don't really understand the nuance. Is there any difference between "後の祭り” and ”時すでに遅し”? Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 23:06
  • 1
    Google searches for <english>+意味 do a lot too. I just searched "that ship has sailed 意味". The meaning is fairly straightforward as you've said, though as a set expression it likely has its own set of nuances. 後の祭り does seem to mean something similar, but minute differences in nuance between it and other terms are really different questions altogether. There's a whole list of possible alternatives here: thesaurus.weblio.jp/content/…
    – Mindful
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 23:33
  • The list of alternatives to 時すでに遅し (as you posted) and also 後の祭り (thesaurus.weblio.jp/content/後の祭り) looks like a great starting point to study these differences. Thanks! Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 0:09
  • Sure; I also encourage you to be open to looking up definitions in monolingual dictionaries too. It's often not as bad as it initially seems. Also, if you feel your question has been answered, feel free to accept my answer.
    – Mindful
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 0:15
  • "the definitions given here are also pretty in line with the feelings " Which in english, roughly is what?
    – Ryan Leach
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 9:10

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