It is a well-known fact that being late is frowned upon in Japanese culture. Being late when you meet friends will not hurt your friendships badly as long as you apologize and don’t try to make up excuses. Your Japanese friends might very well be the ones who are late. But in business culture, it’s a no-go, so you should be on time for your appointments with your Japanese counterparts. However, trouble sometimes happens, and being late is unavoidable. Here is what to say in such situations.
1. How to Say ‘Sorry I’m Late’ in Japanese
- Sumimasen, osokunarimashita. (すみません、遅くなりました。) I’m sorry for being late.
- Omataseshite moshiwake gozaimasen. (お待たせして申し訳ございません。) I am deeply sorry to have kept you waiting.
The first one is polite, and the second one is very formal. Merely explaining why you are late usually will not earn points with your Japanese counterparts. One of the most common ways to apologize in Japanese is “moshiwake arimasen”, which means “I have no excuse.” The most important is to apologize as sincerely as possible before explaining anything else.
2. How to Say ‘I Will Be 10 Minutes Late’ in Japanese
- Okuremasu (遅れます) I’m going to be late.
- Okureso desu (遅れそうです ) I may be late
If you notice you will be late or may be late, it is imperative to phone or message your Japanese counterpart and warn them in advance. In that case, first apologize, then announce how late you will likely arrive.
Here are a few ways to apologize and tell about your estimated time of arrival:
- Sumimasen, juppun okuremasu. (すみません、十分遅れます。) Sorry, I will be 10 minutes late.
- Sumimasen, sukoshi okureso desu. (すみません、少し遅れそうです。) Sorry, I may be a little late.
- Sumimasen, ato juppun de tsukimasu. (すみません、後十分で着きます。) Sorry, I will arrive in 10 minutes.
- Sumimasen, sugu ni tsukimasu. (すみません、すぐに着きます。) Sorry, I will arrive in a moment.
Here are a few useful time expressions:
- Gofun (五分): Five minutes
- Juppun: Ten minutes
- Nijuppun (二十分): Twenty minutes
- Sanjuppun ( 三十分 ): Thirty minutes
- Ichijikan (一時間) : One hour
- Sukoshi ( 少し ): A little
- Sugu ni (すぐに): In a moment, immediately
- Ato juppun de (後十分で): In ten minutes
3. Explaining Why You Will Be Late
If you are warning your Japanese counterpart that you will be late, you may also include why you are late in your sentence. On a cultural note, if your train is very late, you can receive an official paper from the clerk officers at your arrival station to prove to your employer your being late was not your fault.
Here are some common reasons for being late:
- Densha ga okurete… (電車が遅れて・・・)The train is/was late
- Juutai shiteite… (渋滞していて・・・) There is/was a traffic jam
- Mayotte shimatte… (迷ってしまって・・・) I got lost…
Here are some reasons you may tell your Japanese colleagues (but not your clients!):
- Kaigi ga nagabiite… (会議が長引いて・・・) The meeting did not end on time
- Nebo shite shimatte… (寝坊してしまって・・・) I overslept
Here is how you can use all of the elements so far to apologize smoothly:
- Sumimasen, densha ga okurete, nijuppun okuremasu. (すみません、電車が遅れて、ニ十分遅れます。) Sorry, my train was late, so I will be 20 minutes late.
- Sumimasen, juutai shiteite juppun okureso desu.(すみません、渋滞していて十分遅れそうです。) Sorry, there is a traffic jam and I may be 10 minutes late.
- Sumimasen, kaigi ga nagabiite sukoshi okuremasu.(すみません、会議が長引いて少し遅れます。) Sorry, the meeting did not finish on time and I will be a little late.
Even if being late is not well perceived in Japanese culture, if this happens to you, don’t panic! Sincere apologies and the effort to use the correct Japanese expressions and apply the tools above will surely help you smooth over any discomfort.
（Header photo credit: Pakutaso）