#AtoZChallenge: S is for Struggle and Shikata ga nai

Day 19 of the A to Z Challenge is the letter “S”:

S is for Struggle and Shikata ga nai

shikata ga nai

The fact that I am within an hour of missing the deadline on Day 19 of the A to Z Challenge should indicate that today has been somewhat of a struggle–one of those days when it seems the harder I paddle to stay at the surface, the faster I sink. I’m not complaining–my struggles are minor compared to those of others. I only mention it to talk about the Japanese philosophy of shikata ga nai.

Translated, the phrase means “It cannot be helped,” or “There is nothing to be done about it.”

I translate it as, “It is what it is.”

When you think about it, there is a kind of peace that comes with acceptance. If there is nothing to be done about it, then why worry? What will be, will be. There are many instances on many days that I take a deep breath and say to myself, “It is what it is.” And then I move on.

The following excerpt takes place when the Kimura’s neighbor, Mrs. Cook, comes over to offer help while Sachi and her family are trying to sell and store their belongings before being sent to the internment camps.


Mrs. Cook stood by the counter while Mama placed the pastel-colored desserts on a white plate. “Mrs. Kimura . . .”

“Please, call me Sumiko.” She smiled. “Or Sue, if that’s easier.”

“If you’ll call me Nancy,” replied Mrs. Cook.

Mama nodded.

“Anyway,” Mrs. Cook continued, speaking softly, “I’m so sorry about what’s happening to you and your family . . . to all of the Japanese. I can’t imagine what I’d do in your place.”

Shikata ga nai. We do what we must do.”

“How can we help? Anything we can hold for you while you’re gone?”

Mama looked at Sachi. Moving closer to Mrs. Cook, she whispered, “The notices say we can only take what we can carry. We will sell most of our belongings, but some things . . . are very difficult to part with. Like Sachi’s doll collection.”

“What about my dolls?” Sachi asked.

Mama’s words spilled quickly. “My mother gave them to me when I was a little girl, and when Sachi was born, I gave them to her.”

“Mama? What about my dolls?”

Mrs. Cook touched Mama’s hand. “Of course we’ll take care of them until you return.”

Sachi rose from her seat. “You’re going to give my dolls to them?”

“We cannot take them with us,” Mama said, her voice shaking. “I do not want to sell them. It is the only thing we can do.”

This entry was posted in Excerpt, Family History, History, The Red Kimono and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to #AtoZChallenge: S is for Struggle and Shikata ga nai

  1. This was a poignant part of the novel. I needed to remember “shikata ga nai” Sunday afternoon, but first I had to be angry awhile 🙂

    • Jan Morrill says:

      moonbridgebooks, I hope things have improved since Sunday afternoon. Believe me, I understand that “shikata ga nai” takes a little while before it pushes itself to the surface. 🙂

  2. Mustang.Koji says:

    What an excellent word selection… Shikataganai is something even Yonseis can fathom although not as fully as Nihonjin, Issei or Nisei. There is so much depth and culture behind that phrase, isn’t there?

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Mustang.Koji, yes, there is much depth and culture in shikata ga nai, as with many other Japanese words I’ve used. When I was a child watching my uncles and aunts, I sensed a difference in the way they behaved, reacted, lived. After learning words like shikata ga nai and gaman, I understand better now.

  3. DayDreamer says:

    Hope your day goes better for you today. I love that exert, very poignant.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      We all have those “trying” days, DayDreamer. But this was one of those days it was relatively easy for me to simply say, “It is what it is.” 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  4. stormy says:

    shikata ga nai was interpreted to me as “Happen is happen” – I’ve loved the phrase ever since..

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