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How do they apologize in Japan?


In Japanese culture, apologizing is considered a crucial part of social interaction. The country has a unique approach to apologies, which is deeply rooted in its culture and traditions. Apologies are not only used to express regret for one’s actions but also to maintain social harmony and show respect. In this article, we will explore the different ways people apologize in Japan.

The Importance of Apologizing in Japanese Culture

In Japan, apologizing is considered a way of taking responsibility for one’s actions and showing respect to others. It is also seen as a way to maintain social harmony and avoid conflict. Japanese people are taught to apologize from a young age, and it is an essential part of their socialization process.

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Types of Apologies

In Japan, there are two main types of apologies: Gomen nasai and Sumimasen. Gomen nasai is a formal apology used in serious situations, while Sumimasen is a more casual apology used in everyday situations. Both types of apologies are used to express regret and take responsibility for one’s actions.

The Bowing Apology

Bowing is an essential part of Japanese culture and is often used when apologizing. The depth and duration of the bow depend on the severity of the situation. A deep bow is used for serious apologies, while a slight bow is used for more casual apologies. Bowing is also used to show respect and gratitude.

The Role of Language in Apologizing

Language plays an important role in Japanese apologies. The language used depends on the relationship between the person apologizing and the person being apologized to. Honorific language, such as keigo, is often used to show respect to the person being apologized to.

The Timing of Apologies

Timing is crucial when it comes to Japanese apologies. Apologies are expected immediately after the incident, and delaying an apology can be seen as disrespectful. It is also common for apologies to be repeated several times to show sincerity.

Apologizing in Business Settings

In Japanese business culture, apologizing is essential, and it is not uncommon for a CEO to apologize publicly for the actions of their company. Business apologies are often more formal and elaborate than personal apologies, and they involve a deep bow and a written apology.

The Role of Gift Giving in Apologies

In Japan, it is common to give gifts as a way of apologizing. The gift represents the sincerity of the apology and can range from small tokens of appreciation to expensive gifts. The act of giving a gift is seen as a way of showing respect and taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Apologizing for Social Disruptions

In Japan, apologies are not only used for personal wrongdoings but also for social disruptions. For example, if a train is delayed, the conductor will apologize to the passengers over the intercom. This shows the importance of social harmony in Japanese culture.

Apologizing in Relationships

In romantic relationships, apologizing is important in maintaining harmony and resolving conflicts. In Japan, it is common for couples to apologize to each other even when they are not at fault. This shows the importance of putting the relationship first and maintaining harmony.

The Role of Nonverbal Communication in Apologies

Nonverbal communication plays an important role in Japanese apologies. In addition to bowing, facial expressions and body language are also used to show sincerity and remorse. Eye contact is considered essential during apologies as it shows respect and sincerity.

The Acceptance of Apologies

In Japan, accepting an apology is just as important as giving one. It is seen as a way of showing forgiveness and maintaining social harmony. Even if the apology is not perceived as sincere, it is still expected to be accepted.


Apologizing in Japan is an important part of social interaction and is deeply rooted in the country’s culture and traditions. The different types of apologies, the role of language and nonverbal communication, and the importance of gift-giving all contribute to the uniqueness of Japanese apologies. Understanding the cultural significance of apologizing in Japan can help foster better relationships and avoid misunderstandings.

What is the Japanese way of apologizing?

If you want to apologize in Japanese, the most common way to say “sorry” is “ごめんなさい” (Gomen Nasai), which is appropriate in many different situations. “Gomen Nasai” is the formal way to apologize, but you can also use a more casual tone if you prefer.

What is the Japanese art of apologizing?

The Japanese phrase “sumimasen” is commonly used as a way to apologize or ask for someone’s attention, and can be heard in various places such as doorways, taxis, shops, and restaurants, often replacing the more common phrase “arigatou” (thank you).

Do the Japanese apologize a lot?

Apologizing has become an integral part of Japanese culture and is practiced by individuals, public figures, celebrities, corporations, and even governments. While apologizing is typically a personal action, it is ultimately a consideration of the collective impact of each individual.

Why do Japanese kneel when apologizing?

Dogeza is a traditional aspect of Japanese etiquette that involves kneeling on the ground and bowing to show respect or submission to someone of higher status. It is also used as a way to make a deep apology or to request a favor from the person being bowed to.

How do you apologize to a Japanese girl?

The Japanese phrase “ごめんなさい” or “Gomen-nasai” is used to apologize or express regret when you have caused inconvenience or hurt someone. Most Japanese speakers will understand the meaning of this expression when used in appropriate situations.

When did Japan formally apologize?

On September 29, 1972, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka expressed to the People’s Republic of China that Japan acknowledges and regrets the harm it caused to the Chinese people during past wars. Tanaka emphasized Japan’s sense of accountability regarding this matter.

In recent years, there has been a growing debate in Japan about the overuse of apologies. Some people argue that excessive apologizing can be seen as insincere and may even undermine the meaning of apologies. Additionally, some critics argue that apologizing too often can create a culture of blame and shame, where individuals are constantly apologizing for things that are not entirely their fault.

Despite these criticisms, apologizing remains an essential part of Japanese culture, and it is unlikely to change anytime soon. In fact, many Japanese people believe that apologies are necessary for maintaining social harmony and building strong relationships. For them, apologizing is not just about taking responsibility for one’s actions; it’s also about showing empathy and understanding towards others.

Overall, apologizing in Japan is a complex and nuanced practice that reflects the country’s unique cultural values. While there may be debates about the appropriate use of apologies, it is clear that they play a crucial role in maintaining social harmony and building strong relationships in Japan. As such, it is important for both Japanese and non-Japanese individuals to understand the cultural significance of apologies in Japan and to use them appropriately in different social contexts.

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