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Shikata ga nai, everybody

December 17, 2011
It's in the air. And water.

It's in the air. And water.


By David Ritchie

A Japanese expression keeps running through my mind these days: shikata ga nai.

It means “Nothing can be done” or “It can’t be helped.”

It also helps explain why the Japanese public seems  so resigned toward the worst meltdown ever, at Fukushima.

Under shikata ga nai, Japanese in adversity do nothing to fight their situation. They just accept it and endure it as best they can.

Time and again in Japan’s history, one sees shikata ga nai in action – or inaction, if you prefer.

After the great Kanto earthquake that destroyed much of Tokyo in 1923, the common response was shikata ga nai. It can’t be helped. You can’t fight an earthquake.

Same for the atomic bombings in 1945. Shikata ga nai again. It can’t be helped. This is war.

Now, once again, as symptoms of irradiation appear, shikata ga nai.

Metallic taste in your mouth, symptomatic of radiation exposure? Shikata ga nai.

Persistent sore throat? Fatigue? Any other symptoms consistent with fallout all around? Shikata ga nai.

It’s a passive attitude. A fatalistic attitude, too.

But is it necessarily the wrong attitude?

You see, I’ve had a metallic taste in my mouth for months since Fukushima. Persistent sore throat and fatigue, too.

Meanwhile, a dialogue goes on within me. One half of me tells the other, “You’re getting irradiated. Aren’t you going to do something?”

The second half replies, “What to do? Shikata ga nai, you know.”

Then the first half of me, the do-something side, is silent … because the shikata ga nai side is right.

I’m helpless. So are you.

We can’t put ruined reactors back together. We can’t recover tons of radioactive water from the sea, or sweep countless hot particles from the air, or pluck strontium out of our bones. This suddenly more radioactive world is here to stay.

Sorry, but those are realities. We have to live with them. Many of us, most likely, will die of them.

Unfair? Not really.

You see, we tend to die by what we live for.  We lived for cheap, plentiful electric power. Through nuclear reactors, we got it.

Now a lot of us are going to die from it … through reactors that failed.

Get used to it. At least, that’s the advice I give myself. Shikata ga nai.

You may ask, “Aren’t you doing anything?!”

Yes. I’m focusing less on this life and more on preparations for the next. But this isn’t the place for that discussion.

Meanwhile, as the hot stuff spreads, think about shikata ga nai.

There’s not much else we can do, is there?

©David Ritchie 2011

(David Ritchie lives and works in Seoul, Korea.Contact: kwriter [at]


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One Comment
  1. ken permalink

    there is a plausible response. check prevailing winds maps and locations of the world’s reactors. sure we can’t 100% run and hide, but the global south seems to have less of all these things.

    so, a hideaway lounge in paraguay or peru seems plausible.

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