all apologies

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but the Japanese PM recently apologized for the Second World War. Well, sort of. In a sense. But not really.  The world has been waiting for Japan to apologize like Willy Brandt falling to his knees at the site of the former Warsaw ghetto.

That sort of stunt is not bloody likely to happen here. I’ve come up with my own theories as to why that is, according to situations I’ve been in which… all right, in no way resemble international politics. But it’s my damn blog and not a sociology dissertation, so here I go.

In the West, transgressions and apologies generally require guilt, as in a feeling of remorse. This is probably a by-product of the whole Judeo-Christian original sin thing.  The logic goes like this: you did something bad, therefore you are bad, and you should feel bad. So when you apologize to someone, you should express just how badly you feel about what you did and the extent to which you are willing to wallow in your self-loathing guilt in order to prove that you’re not a horrible person.

In Japan, apologies are a bit different. You often hear “I’m sorry this happened to you,” “I’m sorry you had to miss dinner on account of me,” “It was not the intention to offend anybody with the racially dubious Whiteface routine,” and so on. To Westerners, this sounds like a total cop-out due to the lack of (perceived) remorse or guilt about the wrongdoing. This is because, to the Japanese, empathy is more important than guilt. If someone crossed you and needs to apologize, the Transgressor will be explicit about their understanding of how the wrongdoing affected the Transgressed. When you’re the one who’s done something wrong, others want you to understand how it affected other people, the “group,” the society at large, or whatever. No one expects you to show or even feel guilt, because no one gives a shit how you feel about it, because it isn’t about you.  

Now, that’s the best-case scenario. There other apologies that happen when Person A is mildly inconvenienced. For example, the coffee shop is out of non-dairy creamer and won’t be available for another 7 minutes. In this sort of case, Person B will bow and scrape and grovel as if they’d just run down Person A’s firstborn child or something.

It looks a lot like this:


But then at times when  it most unequivocally is Person B’s fault, and it is a big deal, they’ll act like nothing happened. Which very well might explain the 30 or so years after the Second World War.


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