From the context of the original Japanese text, is seems that しかたない does not imply a negative feeling such as disappointment or dissatisfaction. Instead, it seems to mean "That's just the way it is" without any negative connotations.

However, all the English translations I have found, such as...

  • I can tolerate it
  • I can live with it
  • I can accept it
  • Oh well...

do imply some degree of negative feeling. (One translation is "I don't like it, but I can live with it.")

The Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikata_ga_nai is ambivalent about this question.

The context in which しかたない is being used is, for example:

  • I have a headache.
  • Here is a tablet. It takes 10 minutes to have an effect.
  • しかたない

In English, that feels like (possibly slight) disappointment, but apparently, in Japanese, it does not.

1 Answer 1


しかたない is a negative phrase, and it does imply some dissatisfaction, disappointment, etc. All the English translations you have found seem fine to me. In your last example, the speaker clearly dislikes the fact that the tablet takes 10 minutes to have an effect.

Etymologically, 仕方【しかた】 is "way (of doing something)" or "choice", and ない is "there is no ~". So "nothing can be done" or "there is no (better) choice" is the basic meaning.

  • "There is no choice" does not describe a negative feeling per se. (Although it is clear that there are situations in which it would imply it.) Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 15:00
  • Thank you for your answer. The (Japanese) person who used this phrase claimed it was a specifically Japanese attitude that is not found in the West. The Wikipedia article appears to support this. From his other statements on the subject, it seems that he meant that しかたない carried no feeling of dissatisfaction (towards a certain product attribute). However, your answer suggests that is not the case. Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 15:00
  • 5
    I believe the concept of しかたない is universal, and I have no idea why such a mundane and uninteresting phrase is treated as something special in the English version of Wikipedia. (It reminded me of this.) Someone might say Japanese people are relatively forbearing in general, but I don't think it's a good idea to treat this phrase as if it were some mysterious catchphrase.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 15:08
  • @naruto The "It can't be helped" translation of the wikipedia phrase is borderline-memetic, and ties into many views of Japan's culture with respect to putting up with things, resignation to social norms, "gaman", etc. How much of these views are real cultural differences and how much are exaggerated I will leave to somebody more informed than me.
    – mbrig
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 16:40

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