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How to Say Sorry in Japanese

Greetings are the first thing you learn when you start to learn a new language. “Hello” and “Thank you” are essential, but “Sorry” becomes even more important when it comes to good communication in a foreign culture which often has different customs and values from your original culture. Thus, “sorry” in studying Japanese is one of the most vital things you’ll learn.

One of the noteworthy features of Japanese apologies is that there are various ways to say sorry. How to say sorry in Japanese has variations, both formal and informal, and in the severity of what you’re apologizing for and who you’re apologizing to. Japanese apologies also have to accompany particular gestures in some situations.

Let’s take a detailed look at how to say sorry in Japanese words! Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your Japanese Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

  1. Japanese Apology from the Cultural Perspective
  2. “I’m Sorry” in Japanese — Formal
  3. “I’m Sorry” in Japanese — Informal
  4. Conclusion: How Japanesepod101.com Can Help You Learn More Japanese

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1. Japanese Apology from the Cultural Perspective

Japanese greetings are not only words of greeting, but also reflect the very Japanese culture and values, much more so than in other languages. The same is true of Japanese apologies, which are very important for avoiding conflicts and keeping good harmony with others in the society.

和 (wa) or “Harmony” is one of the most important values in Japan. It’s the concept that people prefer to maintain a peaceful unity and conformity with others, and it often involves priority to keep a harmonious state within a social group over its members’ personal interests.

Some Japanese apology words, such as Sumimasen or Gomen (see below), can be often used as a substitution for “thank you” which also contains a nuance of “gratitude.”

This may be very difficult for foreigners to understand, but in Japan, when other people do a favor for you, you’re thankful for it and also feel sorry for using their time and effort for you. In this case, those Japanese apology words are used to express both “thank you” and “sorry.” This comes from an idea in Japanese culture that an attitude of politeness and caring for others is valued, and troubling others is considered bad.


2. “I’m Sorry” in Japanese — Formal

Japanese Woman Bowing in Apology

1- Possible Situations and to Whom to Apologize

Formal Japanese apology words are typically used in official circumstances, such as at work, restaurants, shops, or other official office. They often involve people whom you’re not so close with and situations where certain kinds of official relationships exist: staff/manager, client/customer service provider, etc.

2- Apology Level: General らく

These are very common words and gestures for saying sorry in Japanese in the formal style. You can use these in most social situations.

1. Gestures

When you apologize, you’re supposed to show how sincerely sorry you are for your mistake to the offended person or people (otherwise, it would make them angrier and make the situation even worse!).

The common gesture is to place both of your arms and hands straight along your body, or place one of your hands in front of your lower belly, covering it with your other hand. With either of these gestures, you make a “sorry” expression with your face and your head, and slightly tilt down like when you bow.

2. Words and Phrases

すみません (Sumimasen) — I’m sorry

This is the most common “sorry” in spoken Japanese. This can be translated as “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” in Japanese. This word is often used as a light apology and can also be “Thank you” in some situations as mentioned earlier.

You say Sumimasen when you bump into someone on the street, when you thrust your way through a crowd, when you spill a glass of water and a waitress has to clean it up, etc.

Example:

  • すみません、水をこぼしてしまいました。
    • Sumimasen, mizu o koboshite shimaimashita.
    • I’m sorry, I spilled the water.
  • すみません、切符はどこで買えますか。
    • Sumimasen, kippu wa doko de kaemasu?
    • Excuse me, where can I buy a ticket?

(When someone picked up something you dropped)

  • すみません、ポケットから落ちたのに気づきませんでした。
    • Sumimasen, poketto kara ochita no ni kizukimasen deshita.
    • Thank you, I didn’t notice it dropped from a pocket.

すみませんでした (Sumimasen deshita) — I am very sorry

This is the past tense of Sumimasen and is more serious. The past tense often sounds more formal and polite in Japanese when it comes to apologies. Unlike Sumimasen, this word doesn’t have the meaning of “Excuse me” or “Thank you.”

Example:

(When you made some mistakes at work and apologize to your boss)

  • すみませんでした、正しいデータで書類をすぐに修正します。
    • Sumimasen deshita, tadashii dēta de shorui o sugu ni shūsei shimasu.
    • I’m sorry, I will revise the document with correct data immediately.

(When you broke a glass at a restaurant)

  • グラスを壊してしまい、すみませんでした。
    • Gurasu o kowashite shimai, sumimasen deshita.
    • I’m sorry for breaking a glass.

Wine Glass Shattering

失礼しました (Shitsurei shimashita) — I’m sorry (for my mistake).

This is another formal and general way to say sorry in Japanese. Shitsurei literally translates as “impoliteness, rudeness, or bad manners,” and the phrase means “I was rude” or “I had bad manners.”

This word can be used the same way as Sumimasen deshita. If you want to say it more politely, use itashimashita instead of shimashita. Itashimashita is the respectful way to say “I did.”

Example:

(When a waiter brought you the wrong dish)

  • 失礼しました、すぐに味噌ラーメンをお持ちします。
    • Shitsurei shimashita, sugu ni miso rāmen o o-mochi shimasu.
    • I’m sorry, I will bring Miso Ramen as soon as possible.

(To your client)

  • 間違った商品の値段をお伝えしまして、失礼いたしました。
    • Machigatta shōhin no nedan o o-tsutae shimashite, shitsurei itashimashita.
    • I’m sorry that I told you the wrong price of the product.

3- Apology Level: Very Deep Apology

3 Ways to Say Sorry

The very deep apology in the formal style is quite serious and is used when the severity of your offense is considered very high. In order to show your serious and sincere apology, adjective words such as Hijō ni (“greatly”), Taihen (“terribly”), or Makoto ni (“truely”) are often added in front of the following apology words.

1. Gestures

For a deep and sincere apology, place both of your arms and hands straight along your body and bow 60 degrees forward, with your head and face down. If it’s a more serious situation, bow 90 degrees. (The different degrees of a bow show the level of severity.)

In the case of an extremely severe situation, you can express your seriousness with Dogeza style. Dogeza involves both of your knees down, your hands placed on the ground, and prostrating yourself with your forehead touching the floor.

In normal daily life, however, Dogeza is the last gesture to do in apology, unless you run over someone with your car and are going to apologize to the victim’s family!

2. Words and Phrases

申し訳ありませんでした (Mōshiwake arimasen deshita) — I am terribly sorry / I sincerely apologize

This is a polite formal apology and you should use this when you’ve done something very wrong.

The word Mōshi comes from the honorific word Mōsu which means “to say” in the form of Kenjō-go. While saying it, you humble yourself or lower your rank below that of the person you’re speaking to.

Wake means “reason,” Arimasen means “there is no,” and Deshita is the past tense. The phrase can be literally translated as: “There was no reason/excuse to say (for what I have done).”

Example:

(When something you bought is already broken and you take it to the shop, a staff member will say this)

  • 大変申し訳ありませんでした。新しいものに交換します。
    • Taihen mōshiwake arimasen deshita. Atarashii mono ni kōkan shimasu.
    • I am terribly sorry. I will replace it with a new one.

(To your boss)

  • 会議に遅刻してしまい、誠に申し訳ありませんでした。
    • Kaigi ni chikoku shite shimai, makoto ni mōshiwake arimasen deshita.
    • I am truly sorry that I came late for the meeting.

申し訳ございませんでした (Mōshiwake gozaimasen deshita) — I am terribly sorry / I sincerely apologize.

This is similar to Mōshiwake arimasen deshita, but this phrase is even more polite and respectful.
Gozaimasen is a negative of Gozaimasu which means “there is/are” in a very polite and respectful way.

Example:

(The president of a company that has conducted an accounting fraud)

  • 大変申し訳ございませんでした。詳細を調査してしかるべき対応をします。
    • Taihen mōshiwake gozaimasen deshita. Shōsai o chōsa shite shikarubeki taiō o shimasu.
    • We are terribly sorry. We will investigate the details and take the appropriate actions.

(When you bumped your car into someone else’s car)

  • 大変申し訳ございませんでした。損害の賠償をします。
    • Taihen mōshiwake gozaimasen deshita. Songai no baishō o shimasu.
    • I am terribly sorry. I will reimburse for the damage.

お詫び申し上げます (O-wabi mōshiagemasu) — I make a deep apology

This is another very polite way to say sorry in Japanese. This phrase is usually used after you apologize with mōshiwake arimasen deshita or mōshiwake gozaimasen deshita. The word O-wabi means “apology” in a polite way, and the phrase is translated as “I state apology” in a polite and respectful way.

Example:

  • 大変申し訳ございませんでした。お詫び申し上げます。
    • Taihen mōshiwake gozaimasen deshita. O-wabi mōshiagemasu.
    • We are terribly sorry. I make a humble apology.

Man Extending Hand in Apology


3. “I’m Sorry” in Japanese — Informal

1- Possible Situations

Informal apologies are used among very close people, such as family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, and people you know very well. Note that informal apologies in Japanese should never be used during official occasions because it sounds very casual and it would make things worse.

Saying Sorry

2- Apology Level: Light

These apology words are used in situations where you did something wrong or unpleasant but not so very bad.

1. Gestures

For light apologies, usually you just say sorry without any gestures. In some cases, casually put your palms together in front of your face.

2. Words and Phrases

ごめん (Gomen) — Sorry

The word Gomen originally meant “forgive” or “pardon” in a polite way in Japanese, and it was used to ask for forgiveness or pardon. Nowadays, it has become shorter so that we just use the word meaning “sorry.” When you want to say it in a cuter way or with affection, you add ne to the end: Gomen ne.

Example:

(After a couple fought over something)

  • A (male):
    • ごめん。俺が悪かった。
    • Gomen. Ore ga warukatta.
    • Sorry. I was bad.
  • B (female):
    • ごめんね。私も。
    • Gomen ne. Watashi mo.
    • Sorry. Me too.

(When you are late to meet your friend)

  • 遅れてごめん。
    • Okurete gomen.
    • Sorry for being late.

失礼 (Shitsurei) — Sorry / Excuse me

Shitsurei is the short and casual version of Shitsurei shimashita. This can also be used as “Excuse me.”

Example:

(After you burp/fart)

  • 失礼!
    • Shitsurei!
    • Sorry / Excuse me!

  
(When you thrust your way through a crowd of friends)
  

  • 失礼、通るよ。
    • Shitsurei, tōru yo.
    • Sorry, let me pass.

悪い (Warui) — My bad

It literally means “bad,” but in this case you can use this phrase as “My bad!” However, it sounds a little rough and this word is used mainly by men. Also note that in the example below, you’ll find a variation of how to say sorry I’m late in Japanese.

Example:

(When a boyfriend is late for dinner at a restaurant)

  • A (male):
    • 悪い、ちょっと遅れる。先に行って何か頼んでて。
    • Warui, chotto okureru. Saki ni itte nani ka tanonde te.
    • Sorry, I’ll be a bit late. You can go (to a restaurant) first and order something.
  • B (female):
    • わかった。飲み物頼んでおくね。
    • Wakatta. Nomimono tanonde oku ne.
    • Alright. I will order drinks.

Man and Woman at Nice Restaurant

3- Apology Level: General

The following phrase is the common, informal way to say sorry in Japanese. It’s casual, but still sounds polite. In some cases, this phrase can be used in semi-formal occasions.

1. Gestures

There is no particular gesture you should do for informal and general apologies. However, it’s a good idea to show your sincere feelings using facial expressions and through the tone of your voice.

2. Words and Phrases

ごめんなさい (Gomennasai) — I am sorry

Gomennasai is a more polite version of Gomen.

Example:

  • ごめんなさい。お母さんのパソコン壊しちゃった。
    • Gomennasai. O-kā-san no pasokon kowashichatta.
    • I’m sorry. I broke mom’s computer.

 (At a restaurant)
   

  • ごめんなさい。やっぱり注文はカルボナーラに変更したいです。
    • Gomennasai. Yappari chūmon wa carubonāra ni henkō shitai desu.
    • I’m sorry. I want to change my order to Carbonara.

4- Apology Level: Deep Apology

When you want to express your deep apology in informal occasions, you can add Hontō ni (“truly”) in front of Gomennasai. It looks more polite and sincere when you hold your hands in front of your lower belly, or put your palms together in front of your face.

Example:

  • 本当にごめんなさい。お父さんの車で事故おこしちゃった。
    • Hontō ni gomennasai. O-tō-san no kuruma de jiko okoshichatta.
    • I’m very sorry. I made a car accident with the father’s car.
  • 本当にごめんなさい。君に借りた本を失くした。
    • Hontō ni gomennasai. Kimi ni karita hon o nakushita.
    • I’m very sorry. I lost your book that I borrowed.


Conclusion: How Japanesepod101.com Can Help You Learn More Japanese

We hope this article on how to say sorry in Japanese is helpful and that you have a better understanding of the Japanese language and Japanese culture. You should now know many Japanese ways to say sorry, as “sorry” in learning Japanese is vital.

If you’d like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find more useful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons for you to improve your Japanese language skills.

We also have a YouTube channel where you can enjoy learning the Japanese language by watching videos and listening to actual Japanese pronunciation. If you’re keen on how to read and write Japanese, which consists of three alphabets (hiragana, katakana, and kanji), you can learn more about Japanese gestures, basic Japanese, daily Japanese conversations, 100 Japanese phrases for beginners, and much more.

Please visit our YouTube channel for a fun learning experience!

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The 5 Aspects of a Great Japanese Course

I started searching for a Japanese course a little over 6 months ago, when I really started to get interested in language learning. I quickly discovered that there weren’t a lot of options out there for students of the language. The lion’s share of materials were aimed at people learning languages like Spanish or French.

A few of the most notable courses left me disappointed. They simply didn’t do a good job of teaching the Japanese language. Some of the most popular options didn’t really have that much to offer. In this article we’ll look at 5 aspects of a good Japanese course. We’ll also look at how JapanesePod101, is a rare exception among most courses, as it thoroughly fulfills all 5 aspects.

Afraid of Japanese Grammar

1) It isn’t afraid of Japanese grammar

In the language learning world Japanese grammar is a beast all its own. With attributes such as honorific language, a flexible word order, particles, and clause-modifiers of nouns all work together to make the Japanese grammar system incredibly fascinating, but undeniably difficult for native English speakers. A quick search on Reddit or Quora will reveal a host of puzzled Japanese learners who are doing their best trying to grapple with the language. Linguistically speaking, you can’t get much further from English than Japanese. It’s consistently ranked as one of the hardest languages for native English speakers to learn.

More often than not a language learning company will slap a Japanese sticker on what’s essentially a Spanish or French course. They make little to no accommodation for the mechanics of the Japanese language. Some language courses even ignore the grammatical difference entirely!

The way you learn a romance language like Spanish will not be the same way you should approach an asian language like Japanese. One thing I love about JapanesePod101 is that it dives straight into Japanese grammar from the get go. Every lesson highlights a very specific aspect of grammar as it’s used in the audio portion of the podcast, and you are given a list of explanations and example sentences to go along with it.

It’s essentially as if JapanesePod101 took the best parts of a Japanese language class and put it right at your fingertips.

Kanji

2) It doesn’t ignore Kanji or Hiragana

Just as Japanese grammar is notoriously unique, so is its writing system. In fact it’s writing system is cited as one of the most difficult in the world. This is mainly because it combines 3 different writing systems into one. Hiragana and katakana aren’t usually too hard for native English speakers to pick up, but it’s the logographic Kanji that pose the real challenge.

9 times out of 10 a Japanese course only includes romaji (Japanese written in latin script) in their learning materials. Users aren’t exposed much, if at all, to the writing system actually used in Japan. Romaji isn’t always bad, and it certainly has its uses, but it’s definitely not a substitute for actual Japanese writing.

JapanesePod101’s lesson transcripts (available in English, romaji, kanji, and hiragana) are just about the perfect tools for familiarizing yourself with the Japanese writing system while learning grammar and vocabulary. The site’s built in spaced repetition flashcard system is also ideal for committing kanji to memory.

Listening

3) Helps you listen in Japanese

Listening comprehension is an often overlooked skill when learning any foreign language, not just Japanese. It’s one thing to know words when you see them in a textbook or when you speak them. But it’s a whole different ballgame when you try to understand native speakers talking at normal speed. Syllables and sounds gets reduced or dropped and whole phrases are spoken in rapid succession. If you haven’t practiced listening to native speakers then your first Japanese conversation could be a rude awakening.

This is why good audio courses can be so powerful. If they’re worth their salt they acclimate your ear to the language gradually over time. At first the speakers talk slow and space out their words, but as the course progresses the dialogue becomes more difficult. JapanesePod101 has a great slow playback feature that allows you to listen to individual words at a regular or reduced speed. This is a superb option for easing yourself into the Japanese sound system.

Vocabulary

4) Gives you practical vocabulary

There are a lot of language courses out there that simply fail to provide you with relevant vocabulary that you can actually use in a conversation. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in the language learning world, and I’ve written extensively about language learning programs that do this. You don’t want to spend valuable time and energy learning vocabulary that you’re not likely to use, especially if you’re a beginner.

Sentences like “the cat drinks milk”, or “the man runs”, just aren’t all that useful in the real world. While there is an aspect of vocabulary that is inevitably personal (your job, personal interests, etc), there are still words, phrases, and grammatical constructions that carry over to a variety of uses. Part of the genius of JapanesePod101 is that each lesson is built around a dialogue between native speakers.

This is great because you see grammar and vocabulary in action. It’s a lot easier to remember how to make a certain sentence construction when you first heard it in a conversation. The contexts of the podcast are also highly practical. You’re talking to someone on the street, to friends in a restaurant, or maybe speaking with a loved one over the phone. Throughout the podcast series there’s a real push to learn grammar and vocabulary in a practical setting. This is a feature sorely lacking from far too many Japanese courses.

Listening

5) It should be interesting, even fun!

A dull language course is the worst. Language learning isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. At its heart the language learning process is one of continual discovery, and a good Japanese course should reflect that. Thus I appreciate the hosts in JapanesePod101, because they do a good job of engaging the listener. Even though you are learning a great deal of grammar, vocabulary, and cultural insights; their playful tone and banter help keep things lively and interesting. It’s a far cry from some older more traditional audio courses.

Final thoughts

So there you have it, 5 things to look for in a good Japanese course. Remember when learning a foreign language, using a good course or method is important; but even the best course isn’t a substitute for hard work and consistent practice. If you stay focused and put in the effort you will see your language skills improve!

How JapanesePod101 makes learning grammar easy and fun - JapanesePod101 Review

理解することはまあまあできるけど、話すのは難しい!
Understanding is alright, but speaking is hard!

Hi, my name is Noemi and this is what I have been saying for over a year whenever someone asks me about my level in Japanese.

I have tons of learning books, and I think they are all good but just too heavy to carry. My Japanese friends are helping me, but it is impossible to remember everything they are teaching me, especially in a more casual context. I also took Japanese classes for 2 years, and those are generally a great option, but not so much for my wallet.

In other words: I was stuck at my let’s say lower intermediate level and this needs to change. I am in Japan now, so it’s time to learn.

Basically, what I need is something light and inexpensive that allows me to learn at my own pace.

I started using JapanesePod101. I was afraid I would give up, but I have now been learning by myself for a few weeks and I enjoy it!

The three main reasons I like learning with JapanesePod101 are:

1. Audio Lessons
Commuting in Japan or anywhere in the world can be quite long and boring. I am getting tired of my iTunes playlist so I’ve decided not to waste my time and listen to those lessons while I’m in the subway.
What about when I don’t have any data in the subway? It doesn’t matter, because if I download the lessons I can listen to them anywhere at anytime!
I can always check the script if there are words I couldn’t catch or kanji I am wondering about.
I am not only learning Japanese, but also about important cultural points, which is really important to me in such a unique country.

You can find them here:
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2. The Grammar Bank
Grammar has always been my nightmare – in English, German, and even my native language French.
Of course, this is also my biggest problem in Japanese and the reason I can not talk fluently for more than 20 seconds. “Grammar” is therefore the first word I looked for when I signed up to JapanesePod101.
Filters can be used to study grammar points by JLPT level, category, series, and more. For each item, there are examples in both romaji and kana. Audio and explanations are also available. The Grammar Bank is an extremely useful tool for everyone struggling like me with grammar. I promise you that you will progress!

But first of all, you should check this introduction to grammar:
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3. The Practice Tests
Checking my progress and realizing I am actually learning new grammar points, words, or kanji is one of the most important things overall.
I can make my own statistics and it actually helps me to set weekly objectives, which maintains my motivation to learn.
I like printing sheets to practice my kanji or check if I can finally reach that JLPT4 level.

There other points that I really appreciate as well:

  • If you don’t like wasting your time on complicated websites or waiting forever for a confirmation email, well JapanesePod101 is amazing, because everything is simple and fast.
  • Do you have a question? Just ask it and a JapanesePod101 staff member will answer you!
    The vocabulary. Although it’s not what I am currently focusing on, there is a 2,000-word dictionary, with examples, that you can study by subject.
  • You can easily find what you are looking for. The website is well organized by subject, level, JLPT or alphabetical order. You won’t do the same lesson twice ;)
  • It is very entertaining. As I mentioned, I am learning new vocabulary and grammar points, but at the same time, I am discovering more about Japan.
  • Kanji learning. They are my second biggest nightmare and as they are just everywhere in Japan, it’s very frustrating to understand only 20% of them. JapanesePod101 is helping me to increase this percentage though ;)
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  • There are other points I could talk about, but I think that everyone who is learning Japanese or wants to learn will find what they need on JapanesePod101.

    Learning languages doesn’t only look good on a resume, I believe it makes us richer too, so if you are interested in learning Japanese, definitely check JapanesePod101 out!

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    Double Your Rewards In Japanese!

    As you learn more about Japanese culture, we are sure that you will want to learn even more Japanese words and phrases! The way to experience Japan at its fullest is being able to communicate and make the best of your stay in this fascinating country. But sometimes we feel that time is short! However, did you know that you can use Japanese to learn more Japanese?  of course, you can ask for help, in Japanese!
    Remember to be polite at all times and use:

    すみません。 (  Sumimasen  )
    “excuse me.”

    We often use it to try to politely get someone’s attention if we are about to say something or ask a question.

    「 word 」 は日本語で何ですか。 (  [ word ] wa Nihon-go de nan desu ka? )
    “How do you say (word) in Japanese?”

    You can use this phrase when you don’t know what something is called in Japanese.
    If you wish, in the blank you can point and say kore wa (これは, “this”). don’t hesitate to use the ‘pointing system’, as it will help you until you have increased your vocabulary.
    If someone uses a Japanese word you dont know, you can ask:
    英語で何ですか。 (  Eigo de nan desu ka? )
    “what is it in English?”

    お 願いします。 (  Onegai shimasu. )
    “Please.”

    Onegai shimasu is a phrase that means “please.” You can use this phrase when you are asking for something or asking someone to do something for you.

    Also, you can pair the following two phrases with onegai shimasu to ask aomeone to repeat something.

    もう一度  (  Mo ichi-do  )
    “one more time”

    as well as:
    ゆっ くり   (  Yukkuri  )
    “Slowly”

    Use Japanese to learn more Japanese words as well getting used to communicating in Japanese as much as possible. Remember that practice is fundamental as you learn, and it will Help you create not only fun memories, but maybe might start the beginning of an awesome friendship!

    I Marge Am

    You may have noticed that Japanese sentences’ word order are different from English. Yet, although it may sound odd to say “I Marge am”, don’t be discouraged about it, it is just a matter of learning Japanese sentence structure and soon it will become second nature. Remember that to Nihon-jin our word order for “My name is Marge” must be strange too!

    What is Nihon-jin? Nihon-jin is the way to say “Japanese person”.
    in Japanese, to express nationality, you add the word for person, jin ( 人 )to the name of a country. Let’s take a look at some examples.

    日本 (Nihon)  (jin )= 日本人  “Japanese person”

    in the same way:

    ア メリカ (Amerika) +  人 (jin )アメリカ人 (Amerika-jin)  “American person”

    イギリス
    (Igirisu)  + (jin )=  イギリス人  (Igirisu-jin)   “English person”

    in total, you can say:
    (私は)アメリカ人です。
     (Watashi wa) amerika-jin desu.
     I’m American.

    Note that when talking about yourself, it is not necessary to say “watashi wa”, as it is implied that you are talking about your own nationality in this case.

    Easy enough? Talking Japanese step by step you will realize that although the grammar and structure might seem different, it makes sense in its own way.  now that you know some basic introduction and important ice-breaking introductions, go ahead and take that trip confidently! It only gets more interesting from here!

    Test new categories