Archive for April 11, 2007

Go Ahead, Say “Sorry”

There’s over a dozen ways to say “I’m sorry” in Japan. Here’s just a few:

ごめんなさい(Gomennasai) = “Sorry”
すみません(Sumimasen) = “Pardon me”
失礼しました(Shitsurei shimashita) = “Pardon my rudeness.”
申し訳ありませんMoushiwake arimasen = “I have no excuse (for my rudeness.) I am sorry.”
すまん Suman = “Sorry ‘bout that, dude.”


There’s also over a dozen reasons to apologize in Japan, like when entering a room full of guests or opening the door to a friend’s house. And if you watch a Japanese person on the phone, you might catch them committing the “I’m sorry” rapid head nod.

Idiosyncrasies aside, Japanese apologize for good reason. It’s a social lubricant offered upon the slightest possibility that someone’s feelings might be hurt. And while in the U.S. it’s good practice to do the same, in Japan it’s simply what must be done in order to be accepted in society.

As an American who spent high school summers in Japan I learned the importance of “I’m sorry” the hard way. One time, I made plans with an uncle to meet at a certain spot in town at a particular time. Well, one of us misunderstood the other and so we ended up arriving at vastly different times. (Cell phones didn’t exist back then.) When I finally saw my uncle that evening I did the typical American thing, expressing how baffled I was about the misunderstanding and then shrugging it off. Little did I know, he was miffed.

When in doubt – or even if it’s not your fault – the golden rule in Japan is to bite the bullet and say “I’m sorry,” especially when dealing with those older than you. In the U.S. we deal with things logically: Apologize if it’s your fault. Don’t apologize if it’s not. But in Japan, an apology less of an admittance of fault than a way to express your feelings toward the misfortune or inconvenience that the other person may have suffered.

Don’t see the difference? Yeah, I didn’t either. In fact, I was pretty stubborn with the apologies for years. They used to call me the Apology Scrooge. And then one day it began trickling out. “Sorry for being late.” “Sorry to bother you.” “My apologies …”

And when the person starts apologizing right back at you, that’s when you know you’ve done something right for a change. (^_^)


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April 11, 2007 at 1:17 pm 2 comments

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April 2007


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