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7 Comments

  • Oh interesting post!

    On the BP aploogy being eight times as long, that bears out other research suggesting that and aplogy with lots of explanation and detail might make you sound shifty in Japanese.

    Now, as the readers of the reports would be shareholders, isn’t Mr Cho being more logical than BP when he apologises for the loss? What does it say about perceieved audience?

    Readers who enjoyed this might also enjoy this article on Japanese aplogies from the asian-tefl journal: http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/March06_dl.pdf

  • Thanks for the insight into the likely effect of a long apology on a Japanese audience. Our Japanese students were at first reluctant to comment on any such conventions, a reticence interesting in itself. Eventually, one of them offered an insight from Samurai tradition: seppuko, killing oneself by disembowelment, was the code of honour for a warrior accepting responsibility for some misdeed. A mere apology, especially a long-winded one, would have been seen as somehow inadequate and less sincere. Our student also made the analogy that, like Julius Caesar’s ‘veni, vidi, vici’, the samurai lived by big deeds and few words. Perhaps an interesting take by comparison is the extent to which a CEO acknowledges responsibility for company faults and how they express it in the company report. Increasingly, it seems that such apologies are given orally at a press conference, particularly in the case of Japan, historically a country whose ‘apologies have been spoken rather than written in official statements’ and which continues to face calls for apologies in writing (Jeffrey 2011: 612). But perhaps a spoken apology is more of a public humiliation for the CEO?
    Reference Jefferey, R. 2011. When is an apology not an apology? Contrition chic and Japan’s (un)apologetic politics. Australian Journal of International Affairs 65(5): 607-617

  • Interesting article on this very theme in today’s Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/24/andrew-mitchell-mel-gibson-apology-bad
    (For those who have better things to do than follow the minutiae of British politics, the government’s chief whip was very rude indeed to a police officer guarding the entrance to Downing Street; quite how rude, and what exact form his rudeness took is still a matter for animated discussion, as this article shows)

  • Let me make some comments about Japanese “apology” culture from Japanese viewpoint.

    We Japanese have a set phrase “Fugen Jikkou” which means “Do without saying”, in other words “Show your sincerity by attitude”. We consider an excuse to be indecent. Instead, we respect one’s action for compensation or improvement. I suppose this idea affected Samurai tradition “Seppuku” (as previous post referring the comment by other Japanese student), which happened in case the problem was too much to be taken by individuals.

    However, this idea is changing especially in business fields where it is globalized and western ideas are regarded as more appropriate to be applied. Accountability is certainly necessary. In fact, “Fugen Jikkou” is nowadays almost disappearing and on the contrary people say “Yuugen Jikkou”, which means “Declare what you will do and take actions”. We respect the words to show the sincerity more than ever.

    In my opinion, Toyota should have made appropriate statements (incl. detailed reflection) to mass media at earlier stage. The idea of apology which conveys the meaning seems similar between western countries and Japan at least in terms of mass communication.

  • Thanks for these interesting observations, Yuki-san – a fascinating example of the interaction between globalization on national cultures.