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Phrased as either "sho ga nai" (informal) or "shikata ga nai" (formal). Similar to the French phrase "c'est la vie" ("such is life"), this phrase can be translated as simply weathering troubles and accepting that life can be harsh, but actually has a deeper definition to it.
One attribute highly prized in Japanese society is that of "gaman", or "endurance". Gaman is the quality of enduring what seems unbearable with dignity and grace. The idea basically that is that if there's something unpleasant around you, it's better to tough it out in an act of self-sacrifice rather than act immediately to change it.
This is the source of many of Values Dissonance in imported/translated Japanese works. Americans, to put it politely, are very familiar with complaining--the nation was founded with free speech in mind, and the ability to speak one's mind is highly valued and constantly taught. Britons have the concept of the Stiff Upper Lip, the idea of dismissing troubles and snarking irreverently about it. The Japanese, however, will have a Salaryman suffer in silence when his boss demands more hours and his wife screams at him because of a miscarriage, or a mother suffer in silence as she keeps her husband's affair with the neighbor a secret while the child asks where Daddy is.
On the brighter side, it can be used in the sense of not sweating the small stuff; having "gaman" would mean you don't get upset over the little irritations in life. If someone bumps in to you, maybe the other person is a bit clumsy or tripped a little. If the food arrives fifteen minutes late, maybe the delivery person got lost or is on his first day. If a friend makes a light-hearted joke at your expense, you find the humor in it and laugh along with it.
Because it can be interpreted as a fatalistic unwillingness to make changes or an enlightened acceptance of the ups and downs of life, "sho ga nai" can change its meaning depending on how serious the circumstances surrounding the phrase can be.
- In the first episode of Mononoke, the elderly innkeeper gets tired of arguing with the pregnant foreigner over how there's no room in the inn. She just gives up, says it can't be helped, and lets her sleep in the abandoned room in the attic.
- Used very frequently by Madara in Natsume Yuujinchou.
- In the historical manga Barefoot Gen, many of the citizens in Hiroshima use the phrase to explain why they accept the military rule, and the acceptance of the below-poverty conditions that cause many of their citizens to starve.
- Kiss X Sis - While on vacation with the gang, Keita sleepwalks into Mikuni's hotel room and starts to molest her. While shaken at first, she soon starts molesting back... while protesting. Upon waking up, he apologizes profusely; Mikuni, on the other hand, states that it can't be helped since he's a guy.
- Used incredibly frequently in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei.
- Suki na Mono wa Suki Dakara Shouganai, an incredibly melodramatic Boys Love manga, translated as "I Love Who I Love, So It Can't Be Helped.
- At the end of Clannad episode 24 (Kyou Chapter), Kyou cancels a date with Tomoya because her sister wants to go shopping. He shrugs it off with "shikata ga nai", unselfishly.
- Holland uses the phrase in Eureka Seven... to explain why the Gekkostate absolutely has to play a game of soccer before going to save the world. It pops up on at least one other occasion as well.
- Holon from Real Drive uses the phrase in reference to other androids of her model and type being used for sexual intercourse.
- Frequently used to describe Chise and her situation in Saikano.
- In Persona 4, Yukiko's buried resentment of Chie for not being able to save her from being trapped in her role at her family's inn is highlighted by Chie's careless comment that Yukiko will inherit the Amagi Inn and "it can't be helped." This prompts Shadow Yukiko to reject Chie as her "prince."
- Shogun by James Clavell uses this phrase as a subtheme, although there it is mispelled as "Shigata ga nai". Shikata ga nai.
- Snow Falling on Cedars has Kabuo Miyamoto, who uses this to fuel his belief that he cannot change the circumstances surrounding his unfair trial due to prejudices remaining from WWII.
- In the non-fiction novel Hiroshima, this is one of the character's catchphrases. It's even written out in romaji in Gratuitous Japanese of sorts.
- Harry Turtledove has several characters - including non-Japanese - using the phrase in his Worldwar series.
- Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars mentions "shikata ga nai" being introduced to the initial colonists en route to Mars by their sole Japanese member. Even in the future, space flight is a long, slow endeavor, so with a lot of things they can't help, the phrase quickly enters everyday usage.
- On HBO's Carnivale, as Ben drives out to confront another person, he runs into Libby and Jonesy along the side of the road. After saving them (which winds up taking the rest of the day), Libby apologizes to Ben for ruining his plans. He simply shrugs and replies, "It couldn't be helped."
- In Kamen Rider Double, Phillip bemoans this when Shotaro starts spamming him to henshin.
- King Crimson has an instrumental titled "Shoganai" (later reworked into "The Power to Believe II").
- In the stage production of Kamen Rider Decade, there was a skit about Faiz, Kuuga, Ryuki, Kabuto, Decade, and Diend being hungry and wanting to get a bite to eat. Decade argues with the other Riders about how there's no time, but Faiz calls in a reservation at IXA's Italian restaurant anyway. Decade just sighs, says "It can't be helped", and goes along. Hilarity ensues.
- "Song of Love", the theme tune to the Pikmin series, has this as its premise: It's all about how the Pikmin go through Hell for their leader, Olimar, yet despite the fact that it's very likely they'll die ignobly, "We don't ask that you love us." The song's single actually outsold the game itself because of how it resonated with the Salaryman public.
- In Goemon's Great Adventure, this is the party's reaction to Goemon being forced into doing a certain sidequest... though it only pops up if you're playing with a friend.
- Used frequently in the Japanese versions of the Ace Attorney games, often spoken by a witness before they finally confess information they were hiding.