If you want to say sorry in Japan, you can use several different words, depending on the context and who you are referring to. Learn some of the words you can use to say sorry in Japanese.
Japanese people don't go around apologizing all the time, but considering they have about 20 ways to say sorry, it looks like this might be a frequent and common situation. Some ways of saying sorry are very formal or part of the old Japanese language. “Gomen-nasai” and “sumimasen” are probably two of the most popular, and anime fans should already know these two.
"Only 10% of the times someone says "sumimasen" it's an actual apology. The rest is used to express respect, politeness, or honesty. It is a very common word in everyday life. When someone does something for you, when you ask someone who's in your way to move, or when someone holds the door for you, “sumimasen” is the common answer,” explains Laurie Inokuma, a Japanese language expert at Cornell University.
In this constant apologizing there is also an element of gratitude, but particularly, respect for others. Japan is a group of islands where the living space is very small, but there is also a long tradition inspired by the full awareness of others, so it is very common to use a term to show that feeling of consideration and empathy with other people.
Some of the other words or phrases that can be used in Japanese to say sorry are “warui warui,” which is very informal and used between friends; “yurushite,” which is a very dramatic way to ask other people for forgiveness; “kanben,” which can be used to ask for pity; “shazai,” which has a more formal usage and indicates that you are sorry for creating a hassle for someone; “owabi,” which is one of the most formal expressions and belongs to old Japanese; and “moushiwake nai” (and its multiple variations, such as “gomen”), which is an extremely formal way of apologizing, used exclusively when referring to someone older or a client, for example.
This way of giving many meanings to a word doesn’t only happen in Japanese. In English or in Spanish, when you want to express gratitude or be polite when someone offers you something you don’t want (like a brochure on the street), the common response would be “thank you.” This is a way to soften the negative answer with a thankful expression, but it might also be related to the fear of saying “no,” more than the need to be respectful to others, as in the case of the Japanese. In the end, these word tricks happen in every language and are a reflection of the culture of a country or region.
Can you think of another example?
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