Expressing Apologies in Japanese

Business people bowing to each other
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The Japanese typically apologize far more frequently than Westerners. This probably results from cultural differences between them. Westerners seem reluctant to admit their own failure. Since apologizing means that admitting one's own failure or guilt, it may not be the best thing to do if the problem is to be resolved in a court of law.

A Virtue in Japan

Apologizing is considered a virtue in Japan. Apologies show that a person takes responsibility and avoids blaming others. When one apologizes and shows one's remorse, the Japanese are more willing to forgive. There are much fewer court cases in Japan compared to the States. When apologizing the Japanese often bow. The more you feel sorry, the more deeply you bow.

Expressions Used to Apologize

  • Sumimasen. すみません。 It is probably the most common phrase used to apologize. Some people say it as "Suimasen (すいません)". Since "Sumimasen (すみません)" can be used in several different situations (when requesting something, when thanking someone etc.), listen carefully to what the context is. If you are apologizing that something has been done, "Sumimasen deshita (すみませんでした)" can be used.
  • Moushiwake arimasen. 申し訳ありません。 Very formal expression. It should be used to superiors. It shows a stronger feeling than "Sumimasen (すみません)". If you are apologizing that something has been done, "Moushiwake arimasen deshita (申し訳ありませんでした)" can be used. Like "Sumimasen (すみません)", "Moushiwake arimasen (申し訳ありません)" is also used to express gratitude.
  • Shitsurei shimashita. 失礼しました。 Formal expression, but it doesn't show as strong a feeling as "Moushiwake arimasen (申し訳ありません)".
  • Gomennasai. ごめんなさい。 Common phrase. Unlike "Sumimasen (すみません)," the usage is limited to apologizing. Since it is less formal and has a childish ring to it, it is not appropriate to use to superiors.
  • Shitsurei. 失礼。 Casual. It is mostly used by men. It also can be used as "Excuse me".
  • Doumo. どうも。 Casual. It also can be used as "Thanks".
  • Gomen. ごめん。 Very casual. Adding a sentence ending particle, "Gomen ne (ごめんね)" or "Gomen na (ごめんな, male speech) is also used. It should be only used with close friends or family members.
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Abe, Namiko. "Expressing Apologies in Japanese." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). Expressing Apologies in Japanese. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Expressing Apologies in Japanese." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).