Sumimasen: The Story of Japan’s Apology Culture

Sumimasen: The Story of Japan’s Apology Culture

Sumimasen – Japan’s Apology Culture is more than just saying you’re sorry — it’s about etiquette, and letting others know that you are meditating on what went wrong, and not merely speaking the prescribed phrases. It has become part of Japanese society and is applied across the board, by individuals, public figures, celebrities, corporations, even governments. Even while apologizing is generally a personal discipline, it is basically an act that acknowledges the whole and how each individual influences it. Here we study the importance and purpose behind this basic habit.

Sumimasen 1 - The Japan Weeknd Magazine

Japan’s Apology Culture – Why Apologize?

Being nice is valued in practically every culture, but the Japanese are renowned to be extremely courteous. The psychological phenomena known as groupthink further contributes to this. Meaning, Japan in general attempts to be a harmonious society and most people try to put the good of the group ahead of their own personal goals. In other words, they attempt to avoid making a fuss or annoying others, because they are aware that their actions affect others around them.

Much of Japanese apology fits in neatly with this frame of thinking. For example, stating, ‘sorry for the late reply,’ even though it’s only been a day since you received an email or ‘sorry for keeping you so long’ after a little chat. The speaker may not necessarily be asking forgiveness, but by apologizing they are being modest and polite – both attractive attributes, especially to the Japanese.

Apologies in Business

In recent years, the number of public apologies issued by firms has increased. Companies must be more cautious than ever before about the information they release to the public in the digital age. Going back to the samurai tradition of Japan, coming out about workplace failures may be compared to protecting honor (saving face). The media revealing the mistakes first would give the company a dubious reputation.

sumimasen 2 - The Japan Weeknd Magazine

Apologizing in everyday life is vital, but it is critical in business. It’s required in order to begin repairing trust and re-establishing relationships with customers. Even the government has apologized in public, both to its own citizens and to strangers. The speaker’s language is analyzed in these situations.

Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, for example, caused quite a sensation when he included the term owabi in his apologies for Japan’s colonial misdeeds twenty years ago. This is one of the most formal methods of apologizing, and it is rarely used.

Apologies in a Variety of Forms

Japan’s highly organized society is mirrored in its language. Depending on the relationship between the speaker and the listener, different pronouns and verb forms are used.

These can range from extremely pleasant (or outright disrespectful, depending on who you’re talking to) to those exhibiting the highest level of respect. It’s no surprise, then, that there are numerous methods to express regret in Japanese. Every occasion demands for a different level of formality, from the formal, moushiwake gozaimasen deshita (it was inexcusable), that you could use if you mess up terribly at work, to the casual, gomen ne among friends.

Sumimasen can be used in instances when an English’sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ would be appropriate. It literally means’sorry for bothering you,’ and it’s far more prevalent than arigatou (thank you). Instead of expressing grateful that someone held the door open for you, you might say sumimasen, which means’sorry for making you hold that door open for me.’

Apologies and bowing

Bowing is a popular form of respect in many East Asian cultures, including Japan. When it comes to bowing, there are several degrees of formality, just as there are with language. A bow accompanied by an apology will, on average, linger longer and be deeper than any other bow. A full ninety-degree bow by company officials in response to a crisis will last five seconds or more.

Sumimasen 3 - The Japan Weeknd Magazine

Extreme Apologies

Millions of cars were recalled as a result of the Takata Airbag Scandal in 2015. As a result of the malfunctioning equipment, the corporation is suspected to be responsible for at least ten deaths. Between 2012 and 2015, airbags were installed in over a hundred million vehicles. Shigehisa Tanaka, the president, caused a stir by refusing to resign.

Toshiba’s president publicly apologized the next year after the business admitted to exaggerating profits on infrastructure projects. Eight members of the board of directors, as well as Hisao Tanaka, the company’s CEO and president, resigned. Actress Atsuko Takahata apologized publicly for her son, who was accused of sexual abuse, earlier this year. Mrs. Takahata accepted responsibility for her son’s activities in the same way that upper management accepts responsibility for the company’s actions. She stated that, as his mother, she had no choice but to share some of the culpability for his actions.

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