The use of “I’m sorry” in Japanese culture is very different from Canada. In Canada, it is an apology – for making a mistake. In Japan, “I’m sorry” is not an apology, it is more like “excuse me”.

For example, in Japan someone might say “I’m sorry, but that is not what I was meaning”.

In the Harvard article When Sorry Doesn’t Translate they noted the following statistics:

  • US students apologize 4.51 times a week
  • Japanese students apologize 11.05

Their view:

Our own work found that a core issue is differing perceptions of culpability: Americans see an apology as an admission of wrongdoing, whereas Japanese see it as an expression of eagerness to repair a damaged relationship, with no culpability necessarily implied. And this difference, we discovered, affects how much traction an apology gains.

I would suggest a minor tweak – it seems to me that “I am sorry” in Japan isn’t just about repairing a relationship, it is also used to ensure maintenance of a relationship.

The complexity of language.

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