Sony Shows That Saying "I’m Sorry" Isn’t Enough In Japan

Sony Shows That Saying "I’m Sorry" Isn’t Enough In Japan

This Sunday, as the Golden Week holidays began in Japan, Sony execs Kazuo Hirai, Shinji Hasejima and Shiro Kambe answered reporters’ questions about the PSN breach that put the private details of over 70 million gamers at risk. The execs didn’t just apologise for the breach, but bowed for seven seconds.

In the world of Japanese corporate fuck ups, the bow (ojigi in Japanese) is a regular at press conferences. Whether it’s Snow Brand Milk’s food poisoning scandal or Toyota’s recall, bows are a requisite for a public apology. Execs put their hands by their side and bow at a 45 degree angle, with their face looking directly at the floor. It must be 45 degrees—35 degrees is a greeting. Dogeza is a more extreme style of bowing; the person gets on their hands and knees to apologise. Execs typically do not use this style of bowing when apologizing.

The bow isn’t only a contrite gesture, but a greeting. Japanese people use bows for a variety of purposes, from saying “hello” to “goodbye” and, of course, saying “sorry”. In the years following World War II, a simple wave has become more acceptable for a greeting, but the traditional greeting is a bow. It’s also a gesture of respect. Even today, school kids stand and bow when their teacher enters the room. Even at many supermarkets, cashiers will give a slight bow when handing over the change. And at many shops, clerks will bow after customers make a purchase.


>(Evans | Hulton Archive) It doesn’t even matter if the customer can see the bow or not—yesterday, I saw a car salesman at a Lexus dealership bow for a good minute or so as a customer picked up his car after having it serviced and drove it down the road. The driver couldn’t see that Lexus salesman kept his head down; everyone else, however, could. It’s a visual manifestation.

There are a variety of bows, and how deep you lower your head correlates to the gesture’s formality. In Japan, which still has an emperor (albeit, in figurehead form), the idea of showing that you are lower than someone as a sign of respect is important. When apologizing, bowing is to show that you are physically lower; this notion is instilled on young children who are told to bow (or are forced by their parents) if they do something really bad to someone else.

In Japan, bowing is equated with apologizing, so seeing a trio of Sony exces on television bowing over a clusterfuck isn’t a big deal in Japan. These types of press conferences always start (and end) with bows. A few years back, one American politician called for Wall Street execs to bow for their mismanagement, but in Japan, these spectacles are not a big deal. It’s a visual representation of people saying they’re sorry. Whether they really mean their apology, that’s besides the point. Like the seventh inning stretch in baseball, it’s not just expected, it’s a photo op.


>(Koichi Kamoshida | Getty) Corporate bows are usually held for around ten or fifteen seconds. When the former Mitsubishi Motors Corp. apologized for two-decades of product defects, he bowed for a full minute. Sony’s bow was seven seconds. Cynics will read into that what they will.

During some occasions, saying “sorry” and bowing isn’t enough. When Japan Airlines flight 123 crashed in 1985, killing 520 passengers, JAL’s president personally visited all 520 families. And when he finished that, he resigned. JAL’s maintenance manager and the engineer who oversaw the plane’s improper repairs made the ultimate sacrifices with their apologies: both committed suicide.

For more about bowing and apologizing in Japan, read this post on NBC‘s World Blog.

(Top photo | Game Watch Impress)


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  • Seven seconds is bullox, my students will bow for longer than that at an assembly.

    On a side note, My students never bow in my English classes. I try to teach them that it’s not the norm in English society.

    They still sneak in bows to me when passing through the hallway though!

      • I know I’m not the guy you asked, but I’m assuming you mean ‘how are you finding it (in the aftermath of the disaster)?’

        I lived in Chiba, just East of Tokyo until recently and my partner is an interpreter for the government. At the moment she is dealing with getting medical aid and pre-packaged meals into the affected area. It’s pretty bad up there and probably will be for quite some time. Even far South in my home of Chiba, the towns of Choshi and Asahi were hit hard enough to cause multiple deaths and millions of dollars of destruction.

        If anyone reading the comments would like to help, please donate to the Red Cross or another legitimate charity involved with the relief and recovery efforts. In Australia, you can help by going to and reading up on what can be done. In sydney, you can contact the Japan Foundation

        Sorry for the hijack, Mark.

  • My life, I give to my country.
    With my hands, I fight for Fire Lord Ozai and our forefathers before him.
    With my mind, I seek ways to better my country
    And with my feet, may our March of Civilization continue.

    Oh Fire Lord, my flame burns for thee!

  • That’s seven seconds less they spent trying to bring back my online gaming. So, stop jerking around and get to work bitches.

  • The “bow and all is forgiven” trick is about as sincere as western politicians crying when they get caught with their pants down.

    I’ll be happy when Sony start paying $$$ compensation to the people who suffer identity theft because of their “security by obscurity” negligence.

  • hmmm, not a fan of the language used in this article.
    As respect for at least basic courtesy for all ages of people reading this, one would have thought other words could be used to get the message across.
    Although I was interested in reading the article, that was just disappointing to see a journalist publish language like that for all to see.

  • shouldn’t they hold a sword at a 45 degree angle to their stomach and cut for 7 seconds truly honorable apologe

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