The Japanese Art of Apologizing
While Japan is amazing in several forms of art, one art form that they probably beat everyone at is the art of apologizing. I’ve noticed since I’ve come here, that the Japanese apologize a ton. I’ve even heard it said several times in different ways in the exact same sentence recently. Here is a lesson in the Japanese art of apologizing.
1️. ごめんなさい ( Gomen Nasai ) – I’m sorry
This is the standard way to say “sorry” in Japanese and you can use it in most situations.
ごめんなさい ( gomen nasai ) is a polite way to say “I’m sorry”, but you can also make it more casual by changing it to ご めん ( gomen , for men) or ごめんね ( gomen ne , for women)
2. 申し訳ございません ( Moushiwake Gozaimasen ) – I’m so sorry
If you did something wrong at work, this would be the phrase to use. This is a way to be humble and show your sincerity rather than ご め ん (ね).
申し訳ございません also used when you have done something wrong and have to apologize to someone in authority. This also means law enforcement.
3. すみません ( Sumimasen ) – Sorry
Is a super common way of apologizing in most situations. It is used like “excuse me” in English.
4. 失礼します ( Shitsure Shimasu ) – I’m sorry
You often hear it at work, especially if someone has done something for you. You use this phrase to apologize for the inconvenience, as a polite way of saying “thank you for your help”.
You can also use this phrase when leaving work. If you left before anyone else at work, you would say お 先に失礼します ( osaki ni shitsure shimasu /“Sorry, I have to go now”) to apologize for leaving before.
5. 許してください ( Yurushite Kudasai ) – Please forgive me
Here’s another sincere, deep apology. You don’t use this lightly.
Saying 許してください is a much more intense apology when you have angered someone. It doesn’t matter who it is or their social level compared to you. This is the phrase you use when you want to relieve stress by begging for forgiveness.
6. 謝罪いたします ( Shazai Itashimasu ) – My deepest apologies
It’s a super intense and formal way of apologizing. It uses the humble いたします form to emphasize the depth of the apology.
However, this is not often heard. It is mainly used in writing by politicians, celebrities and the like, who have to issue a written public apology for a scandal that has hit the press.
7. お邪魔します ( Ojama Shimasu ) – Sorry to bother you
You can use this apology at any time and to anyone you may interrupt.
For example, if you knocked on a colleague’s office door to ask a question at work, you would knock on the door and say お邪魔します. You also use this phrase whenever you enter someone’s home, even if you are invited over. And whenever you leave, you say the same phrase in the past tense: お邪魔しました (Sorry to bother you).
=> The Japanese Art of Apologizing: How Do You Apologize in Japanese?
Apologies in Japanese are a bit different because they are intrinsically tied to the values of Japanese culture.
In Japan, it’s important to keep “face” by keeping a polite, decent appearance. The concept of “face” plays a huge role in Japanese society. You always want to be seen as a teammate, committed to your actions and responsible for your mistakes.
Another important aspect of Japanese culture is 和 ( wa ), which means “harmony”. The Japanese value peace and harmony in society above almost everything else. So the art of apologizing in Japanese is an important element.
You may have noticed from the examples I shared that in Japanese culture it is common to apologize to someone when they do something for you, instead of saying thank you. It’s because you’re grateful, but you also don’t want to burden them unnecessarily. You don’t want to upset the harmony by causing trouble for others, so you’d better apologize.
When you apologize, it is good manners to bow at the same time. When crouching, you can place your hands along the sides of your legs and bend over (a little more manly). Or place your hands just below your navel, place one on top of the other, and bow your head (a little more feminine). Again, this shows that you are a contrite and humble person. The deeper you bow (and bow from your body rather than bow), the deeper the apology.
In case of 勘 弁 し て く だ さ い ( kanben shite kudasai ), you can even bend your knees and lower your head, lowering your forehead to the floor. This is the deepest level of apology possible in Japanese culture and it’s called 土 下座 ( dogeza ). However, you will see this more in anime and TV series than in real life.
The bigger the mistake, the more you have to apologize. For a small mistake, you can mutter ご め ん (ね). But when you make a big mistake, you need to use these two, three or even four statements, as well as bowing at the appropriate level.
=> Moderate your face and apologize properly
Now you know the basics of apologizing in Japanese! From the most ordinary, ordinary ways, to deep and intense apologies
While some of these will be more useful to you in your day-to-day life, you should learn all of them… just in case you need it!