The many ways to say sorry in Japanese

In English, you either say “sorry” or “apologies”.
In Japanese, there are at least 20 different ways.

JAPAN is a country where ostensive humility prevails over and above over almost any other social norm. Japanese people appear to say some variant of the word ‘sorry’ at almost every juncture during their day.
—even when they have done nothing wrong!


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. “Warui warui” 悪い悪い or “my bad” is also a very casual way to say sorry.

“Sumimasen” すみません, which can be translated as “excuse me”, also works as an apology depending on how it is used. “Yurushite” 許して is to ask for forgiveness and “kanben” 勘弁 can be used to plead for mercy and both terms are used much more casually than in English.

More formal ways to apologise include “moushiwake nai” 申し訳ない and “shazai” 謝罪. But some use both terms quite often in business emails not because they really feel bad but just to be polite.


A student would be told to “hansei” for forgetting to do one’s homework. Its Chinese or Korean equivalents – “fǎnshè” or “banseong” respectively – also mean “reflection on” or “reconsideration of” the past.

“owabi” お詫び which is one of the most formal ways of apologising.
-To express “DEEP REMORSE” or to state “heartfelt apology”.
Emperor Akihito delivers his remarks with Empress Michiko during a memorial service at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has expressed “deep remorse” for the country’s aggression during World War II, adding that it was a “mistake that we followed the path of war”.


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