The man who drove into Tod last week called to check up on him and asked if he could come to make a formal apology - owabi. Tod told him it wasn't necessary, but of course it really was important to Ootusbo-san.

So today we invited him into our house and sat with him for a few minutes. I wasn't sure what to expect; Tod hadn't given me any sort of description of him. He is my age or maybe a few years older. His hair is short and simply cut; his skin is tanned from outdoor work. He wore all white, like a spiritual pilgrim: white pants, new white sneakers, a white cap and a white t-shirt with a heather blue sweater vest over it. He had his keitai tucked into his back pocket, with various colored straps and characters hanging from it.

I think he didn't quite know what to expect, either. He came into the living room and commented on our stack of zabuton cushions. We put them to use, sitting on the floor at our low table. After presenting us with a box of rice crackers and dorayaki, Ootsubo-san gave us his account of the accident. He was driving back from a job in Kofu, Yamanashi prefecture, and exited the highway to escape the Friday evening congestion. In Otemachi, he turned at the intersection, then slammed on the brakes when his passengers all shouted "Abunai!" They had seen Tod in the crosswalk. Thank goodness he used the brakes. He asked several times after Tod's various body parts, all of which are healing fine, and apologised to me for causing me worry and trouble.

After the sembei and the chat, Ootsubo-san passed Tod an envelope. "It's really not much," he began. Tod tried to refuse the money, but Ootsubo insisted. "It's not about the money. It's about my own feeling. Please accept it."

Then he asked Tod if he could snap a photograph of the bicycle and explained that his car insurance company needed to see it so he could get the van fixed. He said they might call to verify the circumstances of the accident. Apparently Tod left a pretty big dent in the van. So Tod and Ootsubo-san went outside together, but only after Ootsubo-san gave us a deep bow and a pro forma "I have no excuse. I'm very sorry." I think he really was glad that it all turned out alright.


What a good man. I am sure he feels worse than he has expressed. It is good that you accepted his gifts as now he can start to forgive himself for what was obviously just an accident.

How are Tod's bruises?

What a lovely story. Recently, there has been much talk in the U.S. about the meaning of an apology and how it seems to have dwindled - much apologizing without acyions to back it up that one is really sorry and wished to make ammends somehow. Perhaps it is the fear of litigation that makes it that so many people do not really take responsibility for their mistakes? I don't know, but i am really touched by the story and wish it were more universal.

Hope Tod has started to feel better and is back on the bike soon.

Thanks for writing about this. It's really interesting. This kind of ritualized apology seems like a secular confession---with all the forms spelled out so that each party knows what is expected (well usually). It must be very difficult to do...embarrassing to admit wrong to strangers and ask forgiveness for it. Yet, the fact that it's ritualized must help get one through it. And making an offering of reparation probably eases some guilt and helps bring closure to the incident.

I wonder if the fact that Americans have no similar ritual is what makes it difficult for us to admit wrong, to take the blame. Is it that we simply don't know how? that we don't have any customs to help us step up to the plate? We were in a slight fender bender the other day and it seemed that all parties involved simply wanted to skulk away and pretend nothing happened.

Hope Tod is feeling better.

I wish this were more universal too - a heartfelt apology.

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  • Jenn: I wish this were more universal too - a heartfelt read more
  • M Sinclair Stevens: Thanks for writing about this. It's really interesting. This kind read more
  • holly: What a lovely story. Recently, there has been much talk read more
  • T: What a good man. I am sure he feels worse read more