It's usually a thank-you present, it seems...

So it was just a little debacle about using the wrong stamps, whatever. I was more surprised when they called me afterward, having tracked me down by just the first name written on the cards. Then again, seeing as I have post office bank account and this being the neighborhood post office, maybe my face helped too.

Little did they know I loathe polka-dots.

Quite an exciting item to receive! But what could be inside?

I am offended! I demand sponges to clean up this mess.

Yes indeed, I received apology sponges. It’s not the most exciting gift box, but the collective value of the items was probably more than they overcharged me in postage.

As an American, I’m typically happy just to hear a heartfelt apology and leave things be, and I don’t typically mind when people in the service industry make honest mistakes. It happens! In Japan, however, no matter how quickly the offended party may offer forgiveness, the offending party must err on the side of being overly apologetic rather than inadequately apologetic. One of the things that may come to mind is ritualistic suicide of the samurai class. Although seppuku could be handed out as a dignified punishment, this was also done out of one’s own volition to express one’s fault for having offended their lord. In the early Edo period (roughly starting 1600 AD, or around the time of Matsue’s founding as a new castle town), laws had to be enforced about when this style of apology was appropriate, otherwise the samurai class would all too enthusiastically start to kill itself off. That being said, I wouldn’t want to over-simplify the matter of seppuku and its meanings and uses, so I strongly suggest reading Inazo Nitobe’s “Bushido: The Soul of Japan” for an English explanation of samurai ethos aimed at Western audiences.

Although it of course should be taken with a grain of salt, the Japanese Culture Lab has a video to help explain some of the modern methods of apology.

Got all that? Get your sponges together, and let’s all do our best to show our remorse Japanese style next time! I mean that in the most admirable of ways–apologies are an art form.