Excuse Me in Japan: 20 Ways to Say Sorry in Japanese

When it comes to the people of Japan, they have long since been regarded as cultivating and having one of the most respectful cultures around the world, the Japanese culture is centered around understanding, compassion and thinking of how your actions might affect those in your surroundings. It makes sense then that understanding how to apologize correctly in various settings would be of great significance. Following this, it’s understandable why aspects of their language have evolved to accommodate this need. In the following article, we will discuss the varying nuances of the Japanese culture, and language and how to understand and utilize them when it comes to saying sorry be it to a co-worker, friend or family member. This article will also help any first-time learners of the Japanese language as well as those who simply want to brush up on their skills and learn how to artfully apologize in Japanese. For those seeking more than just the ability to apologize in Japanese, AmazingTalker offers well-rounded Japanese courses by professionally trained Japanese-speaking tutors.

Table of Contents

How to Say Sorry in Japanese in a Casual Way

In most languages it is understood that there are both formal and casual ways of speaking, however, Japanese can often be thought of as one of the most formal languages around and although there is a high regard for being proper within the culture not everything is as formal as we may imagine. Today we look into some of the more relaxed, casual ways one could apologize when in a social setting around friends or family. Some examples can be found below, these are perfect to apply in the aforementioned circumstances.

1. ごめんなさい – Gomen – Sorry

One of the most commonly used words, this is perfect for use with friends or family. This is perfect if you’re running late to an event or meeting with friends, one could say “遅くなってごめんなさい -Osoku natte gomen’nasai (I’m sorry I’m late)

2. 本当に申し訳ない – Hontōni mōshiwakenai – I am so sorry

A more heartfelt version of the above apology, could be used when you’ve made a mistake with a romantic partner or a really close friend. One could say “ 気持ちを傷つけてごめんなさい- Kimochi o kizutsukete gomen’nasai (I am so sorry that I hurt your feelings)

3. 私の悪い – Watashi no warui – My bad

This is an extremely casual way of apologizing and is best only used within close friend circles. A good example would be “私の悪い私はあなたの言うことを聞きませんでした- Watashi no warui watashi wa anata no iu koto o kikimasendeshita (My bad I didn’t hear you)

4. すみません – Sumimasen – Excuse me

Similarly casual in nature to gomen nasai, the difference, however, is that while gomen nasai is used exclusively to apologize for something you’ve done, Sumimasen can also be used to get someone’s attention, however, both are often used interchangeably. “すみません、私はあなたを乗り越えることができます -Sumimasen, watashi wa anata o norikoeru koto ga dekimasu (Excuse me can I get past you)

Ex 2: めちゃくちゃごめんなさい – Mechakucha gomen’nasai (I’m sorry for messing up)

5. 失礼します- Shitsurei shimasu –

Shitsurei literally is translated as rude so when saying Shitsurei shimasu it’s a semi-casual way of saying sorry. It can be used in the following ways “失礼な!- shitsurei na (How rude! – Used when complaining about a rude person.)

6. おっとっと – Ottotto – Oops

This is an extremely relaxed and casual way to apologise to friends and often can be used in humorous situations when little insignificant mistakes are made.

“おっと、ドアを閉めるのを忘れました – Otto, doawoshimeru no o wasuremashita (Oops I forgot to close the door)

7. 私の間違い – Watashi no machigai – My mistake

This is perfect for use with friends when perhaps having incorrect information about a situation. “私の間違い私はそれを間違えました – Watashi no machigai watashi wa sore o machigaemashita (My mistake I got that wrong)

8. 謝罪します- Shazai shimasu – I apologize

This could be used in either a formal or more casual setting amongst friends and is the perfect way to denote a more heartfelt apology to a friend.

“電話をかけなかったことをお詫びします – Denwa o kakenakatta koto o owabi shimasu (I apologise for not calling)

This section includes some great ways to apologize to both friends and family with some even being able to be modified for use within professional situations or when dealing with authority figures. On this note it’s important to note the different uses of gomen vs gomen’nasai, the former is usually used to denote a more casual tone with the latter being used to adapt to formal situations.  It’s also worth making a note of the different uses for the phrase “excuse me” as one can become confused when using it in the Japanese language.

How to Say Sorry in a Formal Way

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Now that we have covered how to apologize in more casual settings, it’s time to turn our attention to a more formal manner of apology. These examples will be perfect for use in a more formal setting such as business or perhaps even somber occasions as well as when dealing with figures of authority. As we’ve discussed, Japan is a nation steeped in culture and history as well as proper etiquette and it’s important to be aware of these customs whether you’re simply a traveller passing through or planning to move to the country.

1. ご迷惑をおかけしてすみません- Gomeiwaku o okake shite sumimasen (Excuse me for bothering you)

This is perfect for situations when trying to perhaps find out directions when traveling or when asking for instruction or clarity on an instruction in the workplace.

2. これは失礼しました – Kore wa shitsureishimashita (That was rude of me)

Although it directly translates as “that was rude of me” it can also be translated as “I’m sorry about this”. This is a formal way of apologizing perhaps to a colleague if you bumped into them not knowing they were in your way.

3. ご面倒をお掛けして、すみません – Go mendō o o-kake shite, sumimasen (Sorry for the inconvenience)

This can be thought of as a great way to apologize In an office setting when a colleague performs a task that is really helpful for you.

4. もうしわけ ありません – Mōshiwake arimasen (I feel awful)

A very formal way of apologizing, this is perfect for use with authority figures such as the police or your boss at work.

5. 許してください – Yurushitekudasai (forgive me please)

A major key to being polite in Japanese culture is self-control, this phrase comes in perfectly as when you’ve made a mistake it is considered a lot better to ask for forgiveness than to make a scene. This is perfect for authority figures.

6. 勘弁してください – Kanbenshitekudasai – Please show me mercy

Perfect for times of trouble with authority figures, this phrase is a form of asking for forgiveness and is perfect for use when you feel like you’ve made a huge mistake.

7. すごく ごめんね – Sugoku gomen ne (I am truly very sorry)

Although not considered completely formal as it can be used amongst friends, this phrase conveys a much deeper sense of regret and is therefore also well suited to formal situations.

8. べんかいの よちが ない – Benkai no yochi ga nai (There is no excuse)

A way to show your remorse and deep understanding for your own actions, this phrase can be used when hurting a loved one or friend but is also perfect for situations where you have messed up at work and know that there is no excuse.

It’s important to know how to apologize in different settings, whether in japan or not. However, it’s doubly as important as stated earlier, Japan is a country of deeply ingrained etiquette values and not abiding by them could see you being an outcast by many groups. For newcomers to the language, it is understandable that it may take time to not only get used to the difference in culture but also in the language differences. However, it is well worthwhile to make the effort as this could not only improve personal but also professional relationships by leaps and bounds leading to a better quality of life while in the country.


Saying Sorry Can Mean Saying Thank You in Japanese Culture

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Although to English speakers it may seem counterintuitive to apologize when meaning to thank someone and convey deep gratitude it is completely commonplace in the Japanese language. When understanding this practice it is not as strange as you might think, often used in contexts where an act of service is performed. Using an apology in this instance is a way of showing your gratitude that the giver opted to perform said act for you and that they took the time and effort to do so.


1. ごめんなさい – Gomen’nasai (sorry)

Perfect when receiving a gift or favour, this apology shows that you are aware of and deeply grateful for the fact that the other person made the effort to get you the gift or do you the favour.

2. すみません – Sumimasen (excuse me)

Although it can be used to gain someone’s attention if, for example, you are trying to move past them, this phrase is perfect when thanking someone for the inconvenience they may have experienced performing an act for you and a polite way of saying “thanks for your help”

3. 申し訳ない – Mōshiwakenai (I’m sorry)

Another great way to thank someone while simultaneously apologizing for the possible inconvenience caused when doing something for you.

4. ご迷惑をおかけして – Gomeiwaku o okake shite – I’m Sorry for the Inconvenience

This is a more direct way of apologizing for the inconvenience caused by someone performing an act for you and also thanking them and acknowledging them for the effort it took.

Understanding just how to apologize is important when integrating into various different cultures, coming from the English language some of these cultural norms may not make sense to you but it’s important to learn the importance of why they were adopted and how exactly they are used.  Sometimes thanking someone isn’t as straightforward as a simple “thank you” however, being able to do so in any language is a skill unto itself and an important one at that, to master.

The Culture of Apologizing in Japanese Society

As we have come to understand through this article and many others about Japanese culture hosted by AmazingTalker, the Japanese culture is one of deep reverence for politeness, etiquette and manners. Therefore, it’s important to understand where this cultural practice originates from. In doing so we will understand why saying you’re sorry is not always a matter of actually apologizing but also sometimes thanking someone for their actions.
In understanding this cultural phenomenon, it’s important to understand that the Japanese aim to have as harmonious a society as possible, prioritizing the needs of the many over the needs of the few. In this view, they prioritize not making a fuss so as not to disturb the peace of those around them. Not only is it a matter of keeping the peace but also a matter of building trust. If we look at it from the perspective of businesses and governments, the Japanese government and corporate culture have shifted wholeheartedly to include these practices, this then builds trust with the Japanese public and with employees as a sense of ownership is fostered.

Apologizing your way around the world

Source: Pexels


By the end of this article, we hope to have given all readers a thorough understanding of the Japanese language and culture. Not only this but we hope to have conveyed just how important it is to be able to apologize when necessary, developing this skill will allow you to have better, deeper connections with others as well as yourself. It will allow you to shed away the layers of your own human ego and realize that everyone makes mistakes and that the best way to deal with them is to apologize, learn and move forward. The Japanese language is a beautiful springboard for understanding the deeper nuances of the human emotional and mental experience and will allow you to express yourself that you can often find impossible within the limitations of the English language. We hope that this article encourages all non-Japanese speaking and practitioners of the language to keep learning, to go beyond the basics and to keep improving. However, in saying this, we encourage them to look into other global languages too, with AmazingTalker you can also learn how to say sorry in Spanish here, as well as learn a variety of other languages of your choice.




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