How to say sorry in Japanese: in a culture that apologizes for everything | WeXpats guide (2023)

In Japan, people often apologize for many things. It doesn't mean that we're always wrong personally, rather it shows awareness on our part in an interaction. Whether you're apologizing for your own mistake or for a general situation, make sure you use the correct phrase for each situation.

Table of contents

  • Why apologize? It's a cultural thing
  • In case of doubt for everyday situations, sorry
  • Business and formal apologies
    • Es tut mir leid (shitsurei shimashita)
    • Es tut mir leid (moushiwake gozaimasen)
    • I apologize (owabi moushiagemasu)
  • Apologies between family, friends and close colleagues
  • body language

Why apologize? It's a cultural thing

For some cultures it may seem strange to say words of apology when there is no wrongdoing. Some may even feel that an apology is an acknowledgment of a mistake in a situation. However, this is not always the case in Japan. In a culture that avoids inconveniencing others at all costs, it's important to recognize the moments we do. Even when it seems like the most harmless interaction, someone usually says words of apology. Thank you is often said before someone does something good. However, it is important to realize that without these words, a person can come across as rude. How to avoid this?

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In case of doubt in an everyday situation: sorry (sumimasen)

How to say sorry in Japanese: in a culture that apologizes for everything | WeXpats guide (6)

forgiveness(sumimasen), meaning "I'm sorry" and "excuse me" and sometimes "thank you", is commonly used in everyday life. If you sayI'm sorry(sumimasen deshita), the excuse is in the past tense. People often use this when indicating when and for what you apologize. Many people sayforgiveness(Suimasen) to put it more simply. While this isn't wrong, it's considered a bit more casual. In a more formal setting, please use すみません (sumimasen).

(Video) How to Say Sorry in Japanese? - Basic Japanese Phrases

It can be used when meeting someone:

Oh, I am sorry.- Ah, Sumimasen deshita. (Ah, sorry.)

or if you want to get off a crowded train at your stop and have to push past people:

Sorry I'm going down!- Sumimasen, orimasu! (sorry, I'm getting off!)

You can also use it when declining a request:

Sorry, I'm in a bit of a hurry.- Sumimasen, chotto isoideirunode. (I'm sorry, I'm in a bit of a hurry)

The tricky use offorgivenesscomes when it is used to mean "thank you" more than "I'm sorry". Or rather, you're sorry for the inconvenience you caused the other person and you thank them for what they did.

For example, if you drop something and someone picks it up for you:

Oh, I am sorry. Thanks!- Ah, Sumimasen. Arigatougozaimasu! (Ah, tut mir leid. Danke!)

or when someone does something nice for you, you would say:

I'm sorry. Thanks.- Wazawaza suimasen.

It means, "I'm sorry for bothering you (doing that nice thing, like getting you a souvenir). Thanks very much."

(Video) The Japanese Tradition: apologising

Even when people ask staff to put their purchases in separate bags at the convenience stores, a service they're happy to offer, you might hear customers say "Sumimasen." Or if you give your seat to an elderly person, say "Sumimasen". Of course, no one is wrong in these situations, and without saying "sumimasen" it comes off as rude or as if you expect others to do these things for you.

[Pleasenotethat you wouldn't use these phrases with close friends. Such sentences are mentioned below.]

As a side note, you can useforgiveness(Suimasen) to get the attention of a salesperson when you have a question or a restaurant staff when you want to order something. In this case it means "sorry" and not "I'm sorry".

Business and formal apologies

How to say sorry in Japanese: in a culture that apologizes for everything | WeXpats guide (7)

We often use すみません among work colleagues, but when making a formal business apology, simply expressing your regrets is not enough.

Excuse me (shitsureishimashita) for minor errors

rude (shitsurei) means to be or do something impolite.forgiveness(shitsurei shimashita) literally means I did something rude.

Even if what you did isn't that serious, it's important to say. It carries the nuance of "sorry" or "my fault". You can use this when you say something wrong and need to correct yourself, or when you enter the wrong room or call the wrong number.

If you need it more formally, you can sayI have to sincerely apologize(taihen shitsurei itashimashita).

Note: 失礼します (shitsureishimasu) is also a common expression; however, it means "sorry" and not "I'm sorry." You would say it before entering a room where someone is waiting for you, or when you end a phone call or leave work in front of your colleagues.

For most formal apologies, sorry

I'm sorry(moushiwake gozaimasen) literally means "I have no excuses for what I did." We use it to mean "I'm sorry." Use for immediate situationsVery sorry(moushiwake arimasen) like the first thing you say when you see your boss when you're late.

When apologizing for a mistake in formal business situations, you would useI'm sorry(moushiwake gozaimasen) for a present situation orI'm very sorry(moushiwake gozaimasen deshita) for a past situation. If you want to show an extra passionate attitude, addReally(hontou ni) which means actual or really.

For example, if a store has run out of product, the store staff will say, "I'm sorry." If you send your customer the wrong information, you would say, "I'm sorry." Surprisingly, even if a train in Japan is just a minute late, you'll hear "I'm sorry" in the train announcement, because they're taking the Cause sorry for any inconvenience, however slight.

(Video) Japanese Extreme Apologizing

I'm sorryalso used before a request. Similar to using "please" when making a request, it is used as a "cushion" phrase before asking someone to do something. However, without this “cushion” the request will sound abrupt and rude, so using it is very important.

In case of a big mistake, apologize

I apologize(owabi moushiagemasu) means "I apologize deeply".

This is used in situations where the relationship between two companies or a company's reputation may be affected by the actions of a person or company.

You can hear it when a company or public figure holds a press conference to apologize for a wrongdoing or scandal.

You can also hear this on the train or at an airport when the vehicle is stopped or severely delayed due to an accident or bad weather.

It is used in business paired withI'm sorry(moushiwake gozaimasen) to apologize for any errors affecting customers. For example sending the wrong file or confusing the number of orders.

Apologies between friends, family and close colleagues

How to say sorry in Japanese: in a culture that apologizes for everything | WeXpats guide (8)

The very first form of “sorry” that children learn isforgiveness(gomennasai). The roots of the words mean admitting that you are wrong and asking for forgiveness from the other party.

This excuse is only used among family and friends.

You can say the shortened formforgiveness(gomen) to friends and family orforgiveness(Gomenne). By adding "ne" it shows a level of closeness in the relationship.

This can be used when you did something wrong or when they did something nice where they went out of their way to do something for you e.g. B. picking up something you dropped. In the latter case, you can pair it with ありがとう (Arigatou), thanks.

Add toReally(hontou ni - really) before gomen or gomen is a way of making the apology more serious.

(Video) 5. Learn Japanese Pod - How to apologize in Japanese

For friends, some might sayI'm really sorry(maji de gomen). Maji means "really", so this would mean "really sorry". Maji de is slang, so it's only used among close friends.

Another word we use to say sorry isbad(warui) which means bad or wrong. When used in or as an apology, it means "I am wrong".It was bad(warukatta) is "I was wrong" andWari(warii) is a very casual form ofbad, mostly used only by men, the equivalent is "My bad".

Male colleagues might sayforgiveness(sumanai) orderforgiveness(Suman) as short forms offorgiveness(Sumimasen) as wellI'm sorry(moushiwake nai) as short form ofVery sorry(Moushiwake Arimasen).

Body language is key to apologies

How to say sorry in Japanese: in a culture that apologizes for everything | WeXpats guide (9)

Of course, body language is important in any language.

However, Japan has some very specific types of body language that accompany apologies. It's so ingrained in people's systems to have an accompanying movement with an apology that you may see people bowing even when they're apologizing over the phone.

With a short apology, e.g. For example, if someone bumps their shoulders or if someone does something nice in passing, a short, deep nod is appropriate.

However, when apologizing when you're deeply wrong, it's important to bow at an angle from the waist. The larger the error, the deeper (and often longer) the arc. When the arch is at a 30 degree angle, people hold one hand over the other and bow. When the arch is deeper, women often place their hands on their thighs and bend while men keep their hands straight at their sides.

When seated, place your hands flat on the table in front of you and bow while bending your elbows.

In very serious situations, when you have done or caused something with serious consequences, some people get on their hands and knees and bow their heads to the floor. This is called Dogeza. But most people will never have to do this in their lives.

For friends, for minor offenses, placing your palms flat together (as if in prayer) close to your face or sometimes accompanied by a bow, e.g. B. if you are late.


How to say sorry in Japanese: in a culture that apologizes for everything | WeXpats guide (10)

(Video) Sorry everyone. I apologize.

Make sure you know what level of apology is appropriate and expected of you.

Sometimes it seems difficult to foreigners because you are expected to apologize when you are not actually sorry or wrong. However, it shows that you understand your position in the situation and that it is a set way of interacting.

I'm sorry it took so long. Thanks very much!
Konna ni nagaku natte sumimasen deshita.
I'm sorry this took so long. Thank you for reading!


How do you apologize in Japanese culture? ›

Owabi literally means apology. If you are using this word to say sorry in a formal situation, you would either say お詫びいたします (owabi itashimasu) or お詫び申し上げます (owabi moushi agemasu). Unlike moushi wake gozaimasen, this is a strictly formal way to say sorry in Japanese. There is no informal way to use the word owabi.

How do you apologize deeply in Japanese? ›

One of the most casual and most frequently used words is "gomen" ごめん. You can make it more formal by saying "gomen-nasai" ごめんなさい or more friendly with "gomen-ne" ごめんね.

Why do Japanese people say I'm sorry so frequently? ›

In Japan, people often apologize for many things. It doesn't mean we are always personally in the wrong but rather, it shows awareness in our part in an interaction. Whether you are apologizing for your own mistake or for a general situation, make sure you're using the right phrase for each situation.

Do the Japanese apologize a lot? ›

Only 10% of 'sumimasen' is an apology. Ninety percent is used to show respect, politeness, honesty. There are also myriad ways to apologise.

How do other cultures apologize? ›

Apology customs differ across countries. For example, Argentinians frown upon written apologies, while bowing is key to Japanese and Korean cultures. You should apologize for modest to large mistakes for which you're clearly to blame. For little things, the culture's equivalent of “I'm sorry” will often do.

How do you say deeply apologize? ›

How to apologize genuinely
  1. Acknowledge the offense. Take responsibility for the offense, whether it was a physical or psychological harm, and confirm that your behavior was not acceptable. ...
  2. Explain what happened. ...
  3. Express remorse. ...
  4. Offer to make amends.
Apr 13, 2021

What is the response to Sumimasen? ›

If someone says “sumimasen” you can reply with “daijoubu”!

How do you answer Gomenasai? ›

だいじょうぶ [大丈夫] (da-i-jo-u-bu) would be a good respond to the little boy's "gomennasai". it roughly translates to "it's ok." or "i'm ok."

What is arimasen? ›

When we talk about the existence of inanimate things, we use ARIMASU (There is, There are, to exist). Its negative form is ARIMASEN (There are not, not to exist).

Which is more polite Sumimasen or Gomenasai? ›

"Sumimasen" is a little more formal than "Gomennasai." When you apologize to the higher or the senior, "Sumimasen" is used in general. Among the family members or close friends, it is common to use "Gomennasai." "Gomen ne" or "Gomen" can be used in a more casual case.

Is it Sumimasen or Sumimasen Deshita? ›

A more formal version of “sumimasen” (i.e. sorry) is “sumimasen-deshita,” which you can use to apologize to a superior or after a bigger mistake than stepping on someone's foot. The adding of “deshita” turns “sumimasen” into past tense, and can be interpreted as “I'm sorry for what I did.”

How do you say sorry phrases? ›

6 Unique Ways to Say “Sorry” When You Make a Mistake
  1. 1 My apologies.
  2. 2 Pardon/pardon me/I beg your pardon.
  3. 3 Excuse me.
  4. 4 Mea culpa.
  5. 5 Oops/whoops.
  6. 6 My bad.
May 22, 2019

What is the most formal and polite way of saying I am really sorry in Japanese? ›

14. お詫びします (おわび します) — I apologize

This is probably the most intensely formal way of apologizing in Japan.

What are different ways to say sorry? ›

Formal “Sorry” Synonyms
  1. I apologize. ...
  2. I can't apologize enough. ...
  3. Please accept my sincerest apologies. ...
  4. I'm regretful. ...
  5. Pardon me. ...
  6. Please forgive me. ...
  7. I am at fault and take full responsibility. ...
  8. I beg your pardon.

What does dogeza mean in Japanese? ›

The term is used in Japanese politics such as "dogeza-gaikō" (土下座外交) which is translated to "kowtow diplomacy" or "kowtow foreign policy". In general, dogeza is translated into English as "prostration" or "kowtow".

How do Americans and Japanese perceive an apology? ›

A survey of Japanese and Americans found that, compared to Americans, Japanese apologized more often and were more likely to apologize for actions in which they were not involved; on the other hand, Americans were more likely than Japanese to equate apologizing with personal blame.

What do you call someone who never apologizes? ›

By refusing to apologize, non-apologists are trying to manage their emotions. They are often comfortable with anger, irritability, and emotional distance, and experience emotional closeness and vulnerability to be extremely threatening.

What are the 4 steps of an apology? ›

Here are the four steps of a simple apology, using my apology to my client as an example.
  • Step 1: Say sorry. ...
  • Step 2: Say what you're sorry for. ...
  • Step 3: Resist the temptation to say “but.” Anything after the word “but” is going to be all bad.
  • Step 4: Take responsibility for your behavior (don't say “if”!).
Jul 15, 2019

What are the three types of sorry? ›

The 5 Types of Apologies
  • Remorse Apology. When people think of giving an honest apology, a remorse apology is often what they are thinking of. ...
  • Regret Apology. ...
  • Empathy Apology. ...
  • Social Harmony Apology. ...
  • Harmless Error Apology.
Jul 1, 2021

What are the 3 parts of an apology? ›

“Every good apology has three operative elements: acknowledgment, acceptance, and amends,” John Baldoni writes in SmartBrief .
The Three A's of Apologies
  • Acknowledgement. Acknowledge the situation and say you are sorry for what happened.
  • Acceptance. ...
  • Amends.
Sep 6, 2021

What is the strongest word for sorry? ›

adj.remorseful, regretful. adj.sad, heartbroken.

What is the best apology ever? ›

The best apologies have these 4 elements, says a psychologist
  • Making amends. This is an effort to repair the damage done. ...
  • Sincerely express regret or remorse. ...
  • Explain what went wrong — especially if what happened wasn't intentional and you've taken the steps to ensure it won't happen again.
May 2, 2021

How do you say sorry perfectly? ›

Steps for saying you're sorry
  1. Before you do anything, practise self-affirmation. It's important to start by saying a few positive words to yourself. ...
  2. Spell out why you want to apologise. ...
  3. Admit you were wrong. ...
  4. Acknowledge the other person's feelings. ...
  5. Say you're sorry. ...
  6. Ask them to forgive you.

What is Domo Sumimasen? ›

Domo arigato: A more polite variation on “arigato”, roughly the equivalent of “thank you very much”. Domo sumimasen (Soo-mi-ma-sen): A very polite “thank you”. This term is used while you are engaged in an activity.

What is the response to Domo arigato? ›

If you take Japanese lessons, you'll probably learn that the proper response to arigatou is do itashimashite (どういたしまして), meaning “you're welcome.”

What Daijoubu means? ›

だいじょうぶ です (Daijoubu desu)

A classic pretender phrase known for its amazing versatility; 'daijoubu' can mean 'yes' or 'no', 'it's ok', 'is it ok?

How do you answer Yokatta? ›

You could simply respond to them with よかったです (yokatta desu) to tell them that you enjoyed it. Another way that I see it a lot is as an expression of relief.

What is the polite form of Sumimasen? ›

Osoreirimasu (恐れ入ります)

The more polite and formal way to say sumimasen, or excuse me, you can use it alone or in the beginning of a phrase, such as “osoreirimasuga…” to mean “I'm sorry but…”

Is Sumimasen sorry? ›

SUMIMASEN has many different meanings: "I'm sorry", "thank you" and to get someone's attention. It might be confusing at first, but once you've used it for a while, it'll become second nature. When Japanese people say SUMIMASEN, they often bow in appreciation or apology.

What is kawaii desu ne? ›

So what does kawaii desu ne mean? Kawaii desu ne means, it's cute, isn't it? Or as a Canadian… it's cute, eh? Trust me, if you spend some time in Japan, you'll definitely hear this phrase… so even better if you learn it now!

What is Nande Monai? ›

Nandemonai is Japanese for nothing or nothing special You can use it in general conversation to indicate “no big deal” etc. Helpful(1)

What is Dozo in Japanese? ›

どうぞ (do-u-zo) means "here you are" / "go ahead". Some romanisation systems use a macron (that's a horizontal bar over the letter) to write the long vowel sound: ā ī ū ē ō. Using the macron, the word would be written "dōzo".

What does Domo Arigato mean? ›

When you buy something at a store, store clerk would say "DOMO ARIGATOU", meaning thank you "very much". You can also use DOMO as a greeting like "hello".

What does Moshi Wakenai mean? ›

Moushi wakenai. (申し訳ない、もうしわけない。) – I feel terrible. This expression is mainly used among adults. You would say this to someone you don't know to well, or someone who is in higher status than yourself.

Does Japanese have a word for no? ›

Let's start by looking at the most basic word for “no.” In Japanese, the polite way to say “no” is “いいえ (Iie).” Regardless, いいえ (Iie) is still rarely used as a way to refuse, even in formal situations. It is the most straightforward, blunt way of doing it, while the casual way of saying “no” is いや (iya).

What is Arimasen Deshita? ›

Most adjectives end with [i]: To say the opposite of an adjective, you turn that into a [ku] and add the negative [arimasen], or [arimasen deshita] to put the sentence into the past tense. Here are some examples: Affirmative (yes): [it is] delicious. Oishii desu. Negative (no): [it is] not delicious.

What is Doitashimashite? ›

With a simple dou itashimashite, or “you're welcome” in Japanese! The dictionary and beginner Japanese phrase checklists would have you believe that's the only way to say “you're welcome” in Japanese.

What does Yamete Kudasai mean? ›

- "Yamete kudasai."/"Yamete." = Please, stop it. - "Yamero." (An order) = Stop it.

What are 10 ways to say sorry? ›

So, let's go!
  • I'm sorry! The first word is I'm sorry, I'm sorry. ...
  • Sorry about that. The next word or the next phrase is sorry about that. ...
  • I'm sorry to hear… The next expression is I'm sorry to hear blah, blah, blah. ...
  • I apologize. ...
  • I'm terribly sorry about… ...
  • Oops. ...
  • Deepest apologies for… ...
  • My condolences.
Sep 23, 2019

How do you say sorry without being rude? ›

How to Apologize
  1. Tell the person you're sorry for what you did, even if it wasn't on purpose.
  2. Own what you did without trying to explain it away. It takes away from an apology if you follow up with an excuse or explanation for why you did what you did.
  3. Let them know you regret it.

How do you say sorry without being wrong? ›

So how do you apologize when you aren't wrong, or rather, if you believe you aren't wrong? Start by acknowledging how the other person feels. Like any other apology, express regret over what happened. If you're apologizing on behalf of someone on your team, don't make excuses for them.

What does Gome Gome mean in Japanese? ›

Gome as an informal 'I'm sorry'

What is polite form of Kudasai? ›

While kudasai is a more familiar term, onegaishimasu is more polite or honorific. Thus, this Japanese word is used when you are requesting a favor. You would also use it if you are directing the request to a superior or to someone you do not know well.

What can I replace I'm sorry with? ›

Instead of apologizing, use phrases like '“I'd love to add,” “I think that,” or “Here's a different perspective.” These phrases help you contribute without sounding scared to do so.

What is considered rude in Japanese culture? ›

Prolonged eye contact (staring) is considered rude. Don't show affection, such as hugging or shoulder slapping, in public. Never beckon with your forefinger. The Japanese extend their right arm out in front, bending the wrist down, waving fingers.

Why apology is important in Japanese culture? ›

Apologizing in Japan is more than just saying you're sorry – it's about politeness, and letting others know that you are reflecting on what went wrong, and not just uttering the required phrases.

Do you bow when apologizing in Japan? ›

Bowing is also used to thank, apologize, make a request or ask someone a favor. Bowing with your palms together at chest level, as done in Thailand, is not customary in Japan. Most Japanese do not expect foreigners to know proper bowing rules, and a nod of the head is usually sufficient.

What is the rudest thing to do in Japan? ›

To avoid embarrassment and be polite, here are 7 things not to do in Japan!
  1. Keeping Shoes on Indoors. ...
  2. Forgetting to Take Off the Bathroom Slippers. ...
  3. Changing your Order. ...
  4. Pointing in Public. ...
  5. Eating in Public. ...
  6. Drinking in Public. ...
  7. Talking on The Trains.
Oct 29, 2021

What are 5 Japanese etiquette rules? ›

Japanese Customs and Manners
  • Avoid Staring At or Pointing At Others.
  • Group Over Individual.
  • Do Not Smoke on the Street.
  • Recycle Properly.
  • Make Sure to Clean Up.
  • Don't Make Noise in Public Places.
Mar 22, 2016

What is shameful in Japanese culture? ›

In particular, it focuses on Japanese caregivers' use of phrases that include the term hazukashii, which can be translated as shameful, ashamed, shy, or embarrassed, in accounts of children's behavior or in teasing children for their behavior.

How do you answer Sumimasen? ›

If someone says “sumimasen” you can reply with “daijoubu”!

How do you show respect in Japanese culture? ›

Every where in Japan people bow to show respect to all people. The lower they bow the more respect they have for the person specially if the person is a high official. People bow upon greeting and upon leaving.


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