View Full Version : All apologies: U.S. handles damage-control the Japanese way --

01-26-06, 07:58 AM
All apologies: U.S. handles damage-control the Japanese way -- by saying sorry
By: JOSEPH COLEMAN - Associated Press Writer

TOKYO (AP) -- It's among the most Japanese of traditions: officials accused of wrongdoing go before the cameras to express deep regret and promise to make sure it never happens again.

But lately, the bowed heads in Japan are American.

Taking a cue from Japanese culture, in the past few weeks a raft of U.S. officials -- from the U.S. military, the U.S. Embassy, and the departments of State, Agriculture and Defense -- have gone before Japanese officials to humbly ask for forgiveness.

The reasons have been serious.

In one instance, a U.S. sailor was accused of beating a Japanese woman to death outside Tokyo. In the other, a shipment of American beef violated Japanese food safety rules, prompting a halt to further imports.

In both cases, American officials have gone out of their way to pour on the regret -- challenging stereotypes among a people who consider themselves the world's premier apology artists.

"I figured the U.S. side would come up with some kind of excuse, but since they admitted it so honestly, it makes me think that the United States values relations with Japan," said Hisao Iwajima, political scientist at Tokyo's Seigakuin University.

The importance of apology in Japan is hard to overstate.

A person can easily ask forgiveness a dozen times in a day in Japan, using several different phrases. Store clerks will insist to a customer that "there is no excuse" for having made him wait a matter of seconds.

On a more serious level, formal apologies are a necessary first step for disgraced politicians or companies hoping to rebuild their reputations. A convincing show of regret by a criminal defendant can mean the difference between a slap on the wrist and prison time.

The price of skipping that formality can be high.

When a U.S. submarine rammed a Japanese fishing vessel in February 2001 off Hawaii, killing nine, the commander's initial delay in making a full apology outraged the victims' families. He made a tearful apology a month later.

The U.S. has been careful not to repeat that mistake.

In the killing of the Japanese woman, the American response was quick.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, commander of U.S. forces in Japan, conveyed his "deep apologies" over the killing, and he and Rear Adm. James Kelly, commander of U.S. naval forces in Japan, met with Japanese officials to express regrets.

Kelly and other officials went to the victim's wake, and both Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Adm. William J. Fallon, head of the Pacific Command, sent apologies through the U.S. Embassy. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer also issued a statement.

A similar string of mea culpas followed last week's discovery of prohibited spine bones in a package of imported U.S. veal -- a violation of the pact wrapped up last month to reopen Japanese markets to American beef after a two-year embargo.

Visiting Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick immediately made the rounds in Tokyo to apologize for an "unacceptable" mistake and pledge countermeasures.

That was followed by a delegation from the Agriculture Department led by J.B. Penn, undersecretary for farm and agricultural services.

"The first objective that we had was to present our sincerest apology to the Japanese consumers and to our customers," Penn said Tuesday after meetings with Japanese officials. "We are very regretful that this incident occurred."

The contrite attitude apparently was well-received by the Japanese.

"I've never seen Americans being so apologetic," a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said at a briefing given to reporters on condition of anonymity.

The apologies were followed up by action. The Navy turned over the suspect in the killing to Japanese authorities. Washington pledged a full report on the beef violation and countermeasures.

Niceties aside, the American effort to satisfy the Japanese makes hard-nosed diplomatic sense.

Major issues are at stake. On the military front, the U.S. can hardly risk a blowup of anti-American sentiment as it realigns its position in Japan and ramps up its military cooperation with Tokyo -- which has troops in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition.

And Washington has a lot to lose by alienating Japanese consumers, who once constituted the largest overseas market for U.S. beef -- $1.4 billion worth in 2003.

"It is obvious that the U.S. government tried to protect the general interests of American exporters," said Michio Royama, a political scientist and commentator.


01-26-06, 08:22 AM
One tends to wonder why the US Governemt can make all these apologies and claim respouncibilities for the mistakes they made in Japan but can't do the same here on thier home soil. Instead them blame and accuse others to save thier own A$$es and to make sure they gain favor with the voters. It is a step forward in progress for them to humble themselves, even if it is just a show good enough to get a golden globe, to a Country and it's leaders. They could start doing the same here and maybe make it a sincere gesture. it is the American people that vote them into or out of office.