Trivia: What saying "sorry" really means in Japan

Mar 14, 2022

Q.

When Japanese people say 'sorry', what are the 3 things they could mean?

 

A.

It's no secret that Japanese people say "sorry" ("sumimasen", pronounced "suimasen") all the time. However, this does not always translate to "sorry", as in apologizing. In addition to "sorry", it could also mean "excuse me" and "thank you". 

For example, when the waiter brings food to the table, Japanese people will say "suimasen" to show appreciation and to thank them for the service. 

Many people who are new to Japan find it irritating to hear "sorry" from Japanese people because sometimes they hear it in a context that doesn't require an apology. But that's because a Japanese person isn't necessarily apologizing! Also, some people feel that Japanese people act weak when they say "sorry", but in Japanese culture they say "sorry" as a formality and to be polite.

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