Why We Apologize


Got back home from the whirlwind Hokkaido trip about 12:30 this morning. Wound down a little at home and crashed for the night. Slept in to the very latest possible moment and headed for the junior high. Arrived at school to find that the eighth grade teacher was out sick and I had to teach her classes. All of this left my brain a bit distracted which precipitated a little accident; which I will talk about later.

My feeling is that in America we only apologize if we feel we are to blame, and we accept the blame, and we feel remorse over what happened. Traditional, polite Japanese thinking is that we are all part of something together and blame rarely falls on only one party. Many Westerners find Japanese people overly apologetic and wonder why some apologies occur. Occasionally you can see someone, after having their foot stepped on, apologize to the ‘offender’. This is one of the more extreme cases, but my event today may not seem much different.

During the coldest part of the winter gas-fired heating units were placed between the main columns of desks. Japanese people call these heaters ‘stoves’, and they do indeed function as a kind of stove, having a metal plate at the top which gets extremely hot. Proper use involves placing a large pot of water on top to keep the metal plate from overheating. Today I bumped the pot while getting up. This was not the first time, but today the pot was filled to the brim and, being a little foggy, I didn’t pull back as quickly as I might have otherwise. Substantial water was splashed out of the basin, onto the floor, my pant legs, and my left sock.

It took awhile before I realized that I should be removing the sock from my foot, and I ended up with some scalding (don’t worry, it was very minor). I tried to joke about it and belittle the injury so to put people at ease. This is a very American response, but I don’t think it left the best feeling here. I realized at the end of the day that I should have apologized and did so, but it felt like it wasn’t quite enough and should have been done sooner.

Why should I apologize for being scalded by an over-filled pot placed in a dangerous location? This is the question that many Americans will probably struggle over. However, I knew the pot was there; it has not moved in a couple months. After spilling the water, the school nurse had to trouble herself to get me situated comfortably in a different room, examine my foot three times during the day, get a bucket (large enough for my foot) and fill it with chilled water for me; I’m guessing she also had to write-up a report on the accident. Several faculty had to leave their tasks and scramble to mop up the mess and make sure that nothing (including my pack and books) was damaged by the water. I was late to class, depriving the students of part of their learning experience. The Principal and Vice-Principal, who are directly responsible for everything at the school, were caused to worry about me and other ramifications of the incident.

Regardless of whether the pot should be so full – regardless of whether such a device should be installed in that location – I had a major part in the event and it troubled many people. If I explained it well enough, you can understand why I needed to apologize.


One Response to “Why We Apologize”

  1. Keven Says:

    I can see that, in that culture an apology would be appropriate. If you were in the US, you could have apologized with the use of a lawsuit!! It’s the same thing really!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: