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If you’ve watched some anime or Japanese drama, you might’ve noticed that the characters tend to apologize a lot. A few familiar words for sorry in Japanese might be gomen nasai (ごめんなさい) or sumimasen (すみません).
While the words for ‘sorry’ in Japanese vary in degree, there are also physical ways to express your sincerest apologies, like bowing.
In a general context, we say sorry when we’ve caused inconvenience to a person. Sometimes, our apologies aren’t complete without excuses. In Japan, there are other different situations in which people apologize.
Sometimes, instead of saying ‘thank you‘, Japanese people apologize when someone does them a favor. Why? Because we caused someone ‘inconvenience’, it is considered polite to apologize for the trouble they went through to help.
This way, we are not only apologizing for the trouble but also thanking them for it! Apologizing can be a deep and sincere way of showing appreciation to someone in Japanese culture.
To discover words, phrases, and actions you can use to say sorry in Japanese, read on!
Table Of Contents
- Gomen nasai
- Moushiwake gozaimasen
- Shitsurei shimasu
- Shazai itashimasu
- Yurushite kudasai
- Owabi moushi agemasu
- Ojama shimasu
- Kanben shite kudasai
- Mou shimasen
- Actions speak louder than words
One of the first words we encounter while learning Japanese is gomen nasai (you might also see it written as gomenasai). It is the standard phrase for sorry in Japanese that can be used in almost any situation.
Some shorter, more casual forms are gomen (ごめん), which is more masculine, and gomen ne (ごめんね) which sounds more feminine. To add more sincerity, you can attach hontou ni (本当に / ほんとうに) before gomen nasai.
This, however, isn’t the go-to phrase when it comes to a workplace context! You can use the next words in the list for apologizing to your superiors.
Watashi ni ke-ki wo taberareta, gomenasai.
わたし に ケーキ を たべられた、 ごめんなさい。
I’m sorry for eating your cake (without permission).
I’m sorry/Excuse me
This is one of the most common ways to apologize in Japanese! Sumimasen can be used in any kind of situation where you have to give a light apology, such as when you accidentally bump into someone. The past form sumimasen deshita (すみませんでした) makes this phrase more formal.
To emphasize your apology, you can add doumo (どうも).
Sumimasen isn’t only used to say sorry. It also means ‘excuse me’ for getting people’s attention.
Konban oai dekinakute sumimasen.
こんばん おあい できなくて すみません。
I’m sorry that I can’t meet you tonight.
Sumimasen, eki wa doko desu ka?
すみません、 えき は どこ です か。
Excuse me, where is the train station?
Anata wo konna ni nagai aida matasete, doumo sumimasen.
あなた を こんなに ながい ま またせて、 どうも すみません。
I’m really sorry for making you wait for a long time.
I’m terribly sorry
Moushiwake gozaimasen is one of the best ways to apologize for something you did wrong at work. If you need to apologize to someone of authority – your boss, a traffic enforcer, a senior – this phrase works best.
Another form you might encounter is moushi arimasen (申し訳ありません / もうしありません), however, use it with caution as this is less formal.
A much more formal form, focusing more on saying sorry for an inconvenience you caused would be gomei okakeshite moushiwake gozaimasen (ご迷惑おかけして申し訳ございません / ごめいおかけしてもうしわけございません). This directly translates to ‘I’m sorry for the inconvenience.’ Gomei (ご迷惑 / ごめい) is a noun that means ‘bother’ or ‘inconvenience’.
Moushiwake (申し訳 / もうしわけ) means ‘apology’ or ‘excuse’, while gozaimasen is the negative polite form of aru (ある), which means ‘to be’. This would translate to ‘there is no excuse’.
Kono tabi wa watashi no fuchuui ni yori gomeiwaku okakeshita koto moushiwake gozaimasen.
この たび は わたし の ふ ちゅうい により ご めいわく おかけした こと もうしわけ ございません。
I deeply apologize for the inconvenience caused by my carelessness.
Please excuse me
This is another handy phrase for the workplace. The word shitsurei means ‘discourtesy’ or ‘impoliteness’. To make this more formal, you may opt to use shitsurei itshimashita (失礼いたしました / しつれいいたしました). It can also be a way to express gratitude, like ‘thanks for helping me’.
Shitsurei shimasu is a way to say ‘please excuse me’, when you must leave before another coworker. In Japan, it’s usually considered rude to leave work before your boss or superior does, which is why working overtime is a popular (but unhealthy) practice in workplaces.
Here’s an example conversation you might have when finishing work:
Please excuse (my rudeness), I will be leaving early.
Good work today!
Shazai itashimasu isn’t heard very often in a normal conversation because it is a very sincere apology. Politicians or celebrities use this when they must publicly apologize for a scandal.
The word shazai (謝罪 / しゃざい) means ‘apology’. Itashimasu is a humble form used when referring to one’s own actions. This phrase will translate to ‘I’m sorry for my actions’.
Please forgive me
From the meaning alone, we can tell that this is another intense way to apologize in Japanese! When you’ve done something really bad then you can use yurushite kudasai to ask for the person’s forgiveness. This can be used in less formal situations.
Yurushite is the -te form of yurusu (許す / ゆるす), a verb that means ‘to forgive’, ‘to pardon’, or ‘to excuse’.
Anata no pātī ni ikenai koto dou ka yurushite kudasai.
あなた の ぱーてぃー に いけない こと どうか ゆるして ください。
Please forgive me for not being able to go to your birthday party.
Owabi moushi agemasu
I offer my deepest apologies
Similar to shazai itashimasu, this phrase is used in formal situations, usually in business. You might hear this from companies in situations where their reputation is damaged and they must apologize for their shortcomings. Owabi moushi agemasu is also used in trains or airports when there are accidents or delays caused by bad weather.
This expression is rarely used in speech but appears more often in formal written letters of apology.
Owabi (お詫び / おわび) is another word for ‘apology’, and moushi agemasu (申し上げます / もうしあげます) is a humble expression that means ‘to express’ or ‘to offer’.
Kono tabi wa tousha no furaito ga chien itashimashite fukaku owabi moushi agemasu.
この たび は とうしゃ の フライトが ちえんいたしまして ふかく おわび もうしあげます。
We deeply apologize for the delay in our flight.
Excuse me for disturbing you
This is a phrase used when we disturb or interrupt someone, especially at work. This can be used in both formal and informal settings.
It is also polite to use this phrase before entering someone’s home.
Jama (邪魔 / じゃま) means ‘hindrance’ or ‘intrusion’.The honorific prefix ‘o’ (お) makes it more polite.
Ojama shimasu. Kono bunsho wa dareka ni agemasu ka?
お じゃまします。 この ぶんしょ は だれ か に あげます か。
Sorry to bother you, but who should I give this document to?
Kanben shite kudasai
Please have mercy
This one might sound a bit funny. You might hear this one in some anime or drama instead of real life. But kanben shite kudasai can be used in really bad situations! Like when you hurt your significant other or cause an accident at work that puts your company’s reputation in trouble – oh no!
Kanben (勘弁 / かんべん) means ‘forgiveness’ or ‘pardon’.
This is a very informal way to say ‘my bad, my bad’. Warui can be repeated twice in a conversation, but it’s considered rude to use it with your boss or seniors! Use this only among your closest friends.
In this context, warui translates to ‘unforgivable’ or ‘at fault’.
Warui! Pātī ga wasurechatta!
わるい！ パーティー が わすれちゃった！
My bad! I forgot about the party!
I won’t do it again
After apologizing, you can promise not to make the same mistake by saying mou shimasen. However, in most situations, only children and people in intimate relationships use this.
For example, a young child hides their sister’s favorite toy as a joke, which makes her cry. When the parent makes them say sorry, the child at fault may say:
Omocha wo kakushita gomen ne. Mou shimasen.
おもちゃ を かくした ご ごめん ね。 もうしません。
I’m sorry I hid your toy. I won’t do it again.
Actions speak louder than words
Despite the many words and phrases that we can use to say sorry in Japanese, our body language is still the most powerful way to convey our sincerity.
In Japanese culture, bowing is a common action that you can see daily – to greet, to thank, and to apologize. There is also dogeza (土下座 / どげざ), the most extreme way to apologize. To help you understand the nuances behind different types of Japanese bows, this video by That Japanese Man Yuta may help!
A small nod of the head works for light apologies, such as after bumping into someone, dropping a few papers, or accidentally grabbing the same product as somebody else at the supermarket. Of course, it can be accompanied by the handy phrase sumimasen and eye contact with the person.
Deeper bows can go from 15-degrees up to a 90-degree angle bend of the body, whether sitting or standing. The bigger the mistake or the more formal the situation, the deeper you must bow; and the deeper you bow is, the more sincere your apology will be.
In place of bowing, some people opt to place their palms against each other (as if they were praying) while stating their apology. This action is more acceptable among close friends, however.
You might be familiar with this funny video called ‘Extreme Japanese Apologizing’ that went viral around 2014. These are some hilarious ways to spruce up the deepest form of apology in Japan: dogeza.
The dogeza (土下座 / どげざ) is the deepest form of bowing to apologize in Japan. It is reserved for serious situations that have huge consequences.
In the past, it was a more common occurrence among people of lower status pleading in front of noblemen, or even samurai when faced with life-or-death situations. Nowadays, it is rarely done except in forms of public apology and media (like anime or manga).
To perform dogeza, someone has to get on their hands and knees on the ground and lower their forehead to the space between their hands.
It is the most shameful position in Japanese culture because the ground is considered unclean. Getting on the ground this way means lowering your pride and becoming as filthy as the ground to beg for one’s forgiveness.
The thee kanji that make up dogeza (土下座) are quite straightforward. Following their onyomi readings, do (土) means ‘soil’ or ‘ground’, ge (下) means ‘below’ or ‘inferior’, and za (座) means ‘squat’ or ‘sit’.
How to say sorry in Japanese
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Thea is a freelance content writer, currently majoring in Japanese studies. She likes to create art and draws inspiration from film and music. Thea was inspired to study Japanese language and culture by reading the literary works of Haruki Murakami and Edogawa Ranpo.
“It's an everyday word. When someone does something for you, getting out of your way in the grocery store, or holding a door, 'ah, sumimasen' is the common response.” Just as easily a 'thank you' as a 'sorry', 'sumimasen' is regularly used to acknowledge the trouble someone has gone to for you.How do you apologize deeply in Japanese? ›
謝罪いたします (shazai itashimasu) is a super intense and formal way to apologize. It uses the humble form いたします (itashimasu) to emphasize the depth of the apology. 謝罪 (shazai) is the Japanese word for “apology”, so it's like saying “My deepest apologies” or “I sincerely apologize.”What is the strongest Japanese apology? ›
If you're unsure about how to say sorry in Japanese, gomen nasai is your best choice. It is acceptable in both formal and informal situations. If you're saying sorry casually, you can shorten gomen nasai to gomen ne or even to gomen.How do you reply to Sumimasen? ›
If someone says “sumimasen” you can reply with “daijoubu”!How do you respond to say sorry? ›
Tell them you appreciate the apology.
“I appreciate your apology.” “Thanks for saying that.” “What you did really hurt me, but it means a lot that you said sorry. Thank you.”
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."Why do Japanese people say sorry so much? ›
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.What does go meiwaku mean? ›
meiwaku, which means to annoy, to trouble, to cause problems for.Is Sumimasen an apology? ›
Sumimasen is a formal and sincere way of apologizing. It can be used when offering an apology to anyone, even to strangers. The Japanese use gomennasai, which also means (I'm) sorry, when apologizing to someone they know personally, like family and close friends. Sumimasen can also be a thank you as well as an apology.What do Japanese find disrespectful? ›
Pointing at people or things is considered rude in Japan. Instead of using a finger to point at something, the Japanese use a hand to gently wave at what they would like to indicate. When referring to themselves, people will use their forefinger to touch their nose instead of pointing at themselves.
"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.What is the highest form of respect Japanese? ›
The use of the word -sama is the most formal, and is very special. This higher version of -san is used in very specific situations towards people who have a high status, such as with customers in the customer service industry, but more commonly when talking about Japanese deities 神様 (kami-sama).What does su mi ma sen mean? ›
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. The angle reflects the depth of the emotion.How do you respond to Domo arigato? ›
FAQ: What is the reply to arigatou? 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.” However, that's very rarely used in modern Japanese conversation except in more formal situations.What does Domo Sumimasen mean? ›
domo sumimasen means 'I am very sorry' and hontou in sumimasen means 'I am really sorry.How do you humbly say sorry? ›
- Name what you did wrong. Don't just say: “I'm sorry you got hurt.” That's not owning up to your actions. ...
- Use empathy. Maybe your actions wouldn't have hurt you, but the fact is that they hurt someone else. ...
- Make it all about you. ...
- Keep explanations brief. ...
- Let it go.
- I understand. ...
- Thank you. ...
- Unfortunately. ...
- I hope. ...
- I get what you mean. ...
- I plan to make this right. ...
- Can you give me some feedback?
“I appreciate your apology.” This is a way to convey warmth and gratitude for the apology, while still honoring the emotional impact the hurt had.How do you apologize in Japanese culture? ›
You've most likely heard this if you're in Japan, or even if you're not. The versatile phrase means “excuse me,” and is used as a form of apology and as other means of excusing oneself.
daijoubu desu ka? = are you alright?, are you okay? ( you are asking someone)
- "Yamete!" = Stop it! - "Yamete kudasai." = Can you please stop it?Is it rude to cuss in Japan? ›
The answer to this is quite simple… not often. It is not usual in Japan to use swear words or bad language in public. Of course, you certainly shouldn't say any of the following swear words in Japanese or phrases to anyone higher up than you, as Japanese is a very respectful language and culture.Why do Japanese say I'll never forgive you? ›
There is actually a cultural reason for this. In Japanese culture, there is or was a belief that, if one were to die with someone still holding a grudge against them (or “never forgiving them”) their spirit would remain unrestful and never find peace.How do Japanese express disappointment? ›
Kuyashii-desu – 悔しいです
Use this phrase to express your frustration. For example, if your soccer team loses a match, you can say: “kuyashii-desu” (悔しいです）or “totemo-kuyashii-desu”（とても悔しいです) for I'm very disappointed.
Hi, The phrase you've heard "Hai KaoKao" is,correctly,"Hai,Kakka". "Hai" means "Yes" in English. And "Kakka" is the Japanese word usually used to call higher level person such as general, Chancellor,Prime minister and more. So,in that situation,Kido said "Yes,General" to general.What does Iki Mashita mean? ›
行きました(ikimashita) is the simple past tense of the verb, iku, meaning “to go.” Therefore, it simply means “I went.”What does Iki Masu mean? ›
Ikimasu is a verb meaning "go". Ikimashita is the past tense of ikimasu.What does wakarimashita mean? ›
5) わかりますか wakarimasu ka
You can answer this question with “wakarimashita” (I understand; I got it).
Chotto matte kudasai. / Please wait a moment.
[chotto matte kudasai] Use these Japanese words when you want someone to wait for you for a little bit.
“Kashiori” – The Gift-giving for Someone You Care About - JAPAN CRAZE.
Avoid physical contact. Nose blowing in public is considered very rude, as are yawning, coughing and using toothpicks without covering the mouth.Why is eye contact rude in Japan? ›
In fact, in Japanese culture, people are taught not to maintain eye contact with others because too much eye contact is often considered disrespectful. For example, Japanese children are taught to look at others' necks because this way, the others' eyes still fall into their peripheral vision .Can you kiss in public in Japan? ›
In Japan, you're not likely to see too much public smooching going on. As well as being reserved and modest by nature, most Japanese people also believe that drawing attention to oneself in public is bad manners.How do you say it's OK in Japanese? ›
Daijoubu desu (大丈夫です / だいじょうぶです) is perhaps the most popular, polite phrase meaning 'It's/I'm okay' or 'It's alright' in Japanese.What does Itadakimasu mean? ›
While it's often translated before meals as something similar to the French, “Bon appétit!”, itadakimasu is actually the polite and humble form of the verb “to receive”, so in a literal sense, it means, “I humbly receive”.How do you show respect in Japan? ›
In Japan, people greet each other by bowing. A bow can ranges from a small nod of the head to a deep bend at the waist. A deeper, longer bow indicates respect and conversely a small nod with the head is casual and informal. If the greeting takes place on tatami floor, people get on their knees to bow.How do Japanese people show their respect? ›
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. Respect is highly practiced and regarded in Japan.What do you call your crush in Japanese? ›
Daarin is the best way to say 'my darling' in Japanese. Since the Japanese language doesn't really have any native terms of endearment, they have borrowed this from English! Daarin is a gender-neutral term of endearment, so both boyfriends and girlfriends can call each other this way.What does dozo mean in Japanese? ›
どうぞ (do-u-zo) means "here you are" / "go ahead".How do I respond to konnichiwa? ›
When someone greets you in Japanese with “Konnichiwa” it is best to respond with the same phrase “Konnichiwa”.
You can also use DOMO as a greeting like "hello". And just saying DOMO can mean a casual way of "thank you" like thanks. The name of NHK WORLD's mascot comes from this word, DOMO. Domo travels the globe to promote NHK WORLD, maybe even somewhere near you.What does Domo Konnichiwa mean? ›
The name "Domo" was acquired during the second episode of his show, in which a TV announcer said "dōmo, konnichiwa" (どーも、こんにちは), which is a greeting that can be translated as "Well, hello there!", but which can also be interpreted as "Hello, Domo", and thus is a convenient pun (dajare).What does Kore Douzo mean? ›
これどうぞ｡ This is for you. For the Japanese, it is customary to bring a gift when visiting someone's home.
With a simple dou itashimashite, or “you're welcome” in Japanese!What does Yurushite Kudasai mean? ›
許して下さい。 = yurushite kudasai. = Please forgive me.How do you respond to Daijoubu? ›
When someone asks you DAIJOBU DESU KA?, you can reply DAIJOBU DESU. That will let the person know you're OK. Some Japanese restaurants expect you to take off your shoes when you go in, but others don't. If you're not sure what to do, just say "Shoes, DAIJOBU DESU KA?" The answer will come straight away!How do you respond to a Japanese confession? ›
Also critical is knowing how to respond to a 告白. While 付き合ってください is technically a 命令文 (meireibun, imperative), the person being confessed to still has a choice. The simplest and most straightforward way to accept is はい、お願いします (Hai, onegaishimasu, Yes, I'd like to) or よろしくお願いします (Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, I'd like to).What does arigato gomenasai mean? ›
Arigato gozaimasu / Arigato gozaimashita - Thank you
Both phrases denote a polite, respectful tone and greatly acknowledge the effort done by the person being thanked.
Ara ara (あら あら) is a Japanese expression that is mainly used by older females and means “My my”, “Oh dear”, or “Oh me, oh my”.What does yami kudasai mean? ›
- "Yamete kudasai."/"Yamete." = Please, stop it.
"Ojama shimashita" literally means, "I got in the way." It is often used when leaving someone's home.What does genki desu ka mean? ›
O genki desu ka is a phrase in Japanese that means “How are you?” If you have been learning Japanese for any amount of time – you have likely heard this phrase. In many Japanese learning textbooks – お元気ですか is one of the first phrases that you will learn. This is true for our Japanese lessons as well.What is yowai mo meaning? ›
Yowai mo (弱いも) is a Japanese term that translates to Weakness or Very weak. If someone says Yowai mo, they are meaning that you are really weak.How do you respond to 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 does tsukiatte kudasai mean? ›
tsuki atte kudasai) which means: “I like you. Go out with me, please.”.What does koi no yokan mean? ›
The 'untranslatable' Japanese phrase 'Koi No Yokan' is 'the premonition of love'.How do Japanese men flirt? ›
Japanese are known to be shy, so once they become a couple, they flirt discreetly when in public. For example, you can see many couples walking hand-in-hand but not kissing much. Most Japanese feel embarrassed even just exchanging a small kiss on the cheek in public.What does Domo Arigato mean response? ›
' as in 'domo arigato' meaning “Thank you so much.”How do you respond to Domo Arigato? ›
FAQ: What is the reply to arigatou? 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.” However, that's very rarely used in modern Japanese conversation except in more formal situations.