しかた が ない

I’ve been hearing this phrase quite often living here in Japan: しかた が ない (shikata ga nai) or しよう が ない (shou ga nai – not even sure if I spelled that right in Japanese! Oh well…), which basically translates to: stuff happens – or colloquially speaking: sh** happens – it can’t be helped. In the short time that I’ve been here (I can’t believe it’s already been over a month – time flies!), I’ve found myself saying this Japanese expression often ever since I learned its meaning, simply because when you’re absolutely fresh meat in a new country, sh** will, indeed, happen (you can count on it): you’ll miss the train, misread the sign, get lost,  become late (because you were lost); things that don’t require much thought at home will be hassles here due to the language barrier. You can’t even withdraw money from an ATM smoothly! As you stand there like a statue trying very hard to decipher the right character so as to get your cash in one piece, a line begins to form, a sea of eyes staring at you. And the list goes on. At least these were all the things I’ve experienced so far! I’ve gotten better at getting around and communicating, which I attribute to simply learning as I go and taking Japanese lessons to relearn my forgotten Japanese (but I must admit: remnants of it from long ago had floated back up (when I wasn’t taking lessons yet, which sometimes came to my rescue), but I continue to experience inconveniences in some form or another. What can I do? I’m new! Even going to the bank has been a hassle, probably sounding like: “Money…to take out, where? I mean when…ごめんなさい (sorry)…I mean money, I want.” To which the bank teller responds with a blank stare. I’m sure things will get better when I become more fluent in speaking, but for now…shou ga nai…

So, in all such cases, I say: しよう が ない or it can’t be helped. Actually, I’ve grown accustomed to inconveniences and hassles. I’ve started to expect it. And, as expected, when something irritating transpires, though I feel myself get hot and tempted to succumb in irritation to such nuisances, I remember: new place, “enjoy the bad stuff” (a la the advice from the Argentinean baker I met in Spain regarding living in a different country), and…shou ga nai…stuff happens, it can’t be helped. Or I like this translation I heard from someone: it is what it is. Suddenly, I feel unprovoked and possess the capacity to graciously deal with it. And then, I move on. This expression, as I am learning, is said with a dismissive tone so as to shrug off such an inconvenience from one’s shoulder. Like magic, it leaves with the last letter uttered in the expression.

So, next time you find yourself annoyed over an inconvenience and there’s nothing you can do…しかた が ない – it is what it is. Deal with it, and move on.

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