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In Japan, it's all apologies

Associated Press
Published January 26, 2006

TOKYO - 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.

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 after a two-year ban.

In both cases, American officials have gone out of their way to pour on the regret - challenging stereotypes.

"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, and the price of skipping that formality can be high.

A 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.

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.

[Last modified January 26, 2006, 01:02:16]

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