Excuse me in Japanese — Polite ways to get attention

Today’s lesson, we will learn how to say “Excuse me” in Japanese. We also focus on the Japanese culture related to the phrases, so let’s improve your knowledge and skill for learning Japanese.

girl peeking from a wall saying excuse me

Let’s get started!

How to say Excuse me in Japanese

We use the expression “excuse me” in various situations every day. Not to mention when we want to get someone’s attention, we can apologize for any inconvenience caused.

The “excuse me” expression and actual usage alter in English and Japanese, but the fundamental idea is pretty much the same. The next phrase is the equivalent word for the English “excuse me”.

Polite form

This is widely used by everyone of all ages. You’ll hear this most of the time in public places when you’re in Japan.

  • すみません (sumimasen | 済みません | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry)

Casual form

This form isn’t used by a lot. Be careful when using this phrase to strangers as some might think you’re bring rude.

  • すまない (sumanai | 済まない | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry) *masculine expression
  • すまん (suman | 済まん | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry) *masculine expression


  • すみません。このせきはあいていますか? (sumimasen. Konoseki wa aiteimasuka? | すみません。この席は空いていますか? | Excuse me. Is this seat taken?)
  • すまないけれど、いまいいかな?(Sumanaikeredo, ima iikana? | すまないけれど、今いいかな? | Excuse me. Do you have a second?)
  • すまん。うっかりあしをふんでしまった。(Suiman. Ukkari ashi wo fundeshimatta. | Excuse me. I accidentally stepped on your foot.)

All about すみません (sumimasen)

There are a few things you should know about すみません (sumimasen). Let’s talk about them.

1: Written in Hiragana or Kanji?

Even though the original phrase includes かんじ (Kanji | 漢字 | Chinese character), it is usually written in ひらがな (Hiragana | 平仮名). To learn more about the Japanese alphabet, click here.

  • すみません (sumimasen | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry)
  • すまない (sumanai | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry) *masculine expression
  • すまん (suman | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry) *masculine expression

2: Common writing mistakes

You might hear すません (suimasen | excuse me) instead of すません (sumimasen | excuse me) sometimes. It literally means the same, but the former is a colloquial expression in a casual setting.

Please be aware that the latter is the proper way to say “excuse me” in Japanese. When you want to apologize to someone verbally or write an apology note, you should always use すません (sumimasen).


  • ません (sumimasen | Excuse me) → correct phrase
  • ません (suimasen | Excuse me) → wrong phrase

3: Word structure

The Japanese “excuse me” phrase consists of a verb and an auxiliary verb for denial.

Original words

  • すむ (sumu | 済む | to be completed, to be satisfied, to settle) → どうし (doushi | 動詞 | verb)
  • ない (nai | no, not, never) → じょどうし (jodoushi | 助動詞 | auxiliary verb)

Full version: Present tense → past tense

  • すまない (sumanai | 済まない | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry) → すまなかった (sumanakatta | 済まなかった | I’m sorry, Sorry)
  • すみません (sumimasen | 済みません | Excuse me, I’m sorry, Sorry) → すみませんでした (sumimasen deshita | 済みませんでした | I’m sorry, Sorry)

“Excuse me” in Japanese Culture/History/People

Haven’t you heard that the Japanese tend to apologize a lot? You might also remember one of the Japanese memes of apologizing. Well, do Japanese people actually apologize too much? It’s part of the Japanese Culture, maybe.

Let’s find out why foreigners feel that way. We’ve listed the different meanings of “excuse me” in Japanese.

The three different meanings

Here we have the different meanings of すみません (sumimasen) and sample sentences for each.

  1. よびかけ (Yobikake | 呼び掛け | calling) → Excuse me, Hello, Hi, Heyすみません。えいごをはなせますか? (sumimasen. eigo o hanasemasu ka? | すみません。英語を話せますか?| Excuse me. Do you speak English?)
  2. しゃざい (Shazai | 謝罪 | apology) → I’m sorry, Pardonすみません。こんどからきをつけます。(sumimasen. kondo kara ki o tsukemasu. | すみません。今度から気をつけます。| I’m sorry. I will be careful from now on.)
  3. かんしゃ (kansha | 感謝 | appreciation) → Thank you, Your welcomeあら、すみません。なくしたかとおもっていました。(ara, sumimasen. nakushitaka to omotte imashita | あら、すみません。失くしたかと思っていました。| Oh, thank you. I thought I lost it.)

Samurai Culture

The Japanese “excuse me” phrase originates from the Edo period from 1603 to 1867 when the さむらい (Samurai | 侍 | warriors) were still present. The original phrases were to express their feelings of dissatisfaction due to unfulfilled obligations or unconvincing results.

Original phrases

  • あいすまぬ (aisumanu | not being able to feel clear, not satisfied)
  • すみそもない (sumisomonai | not being able to feel clear, not satisfied)

Excuse me as “thanks”

Saying すみません (sumimasen) is simply a way that a Japanese person shows respect and gratitude to others. Also, people prefer indistinct and indirect expressions to express their feelings. Probably, this is one of the reasons すみません feels more natural to use instead of “thank you” to express gratitude in informal situations.

If you want to learn more about the different ways to express gratitude, we have an article on How to Say “Thank you” in Japanese here.

Two words for Excuse me in Japanese

Native Japanese speakers use すみません (sumimasen) and ごめんなさい (gomen nasai) almost interchangeably. Indeed, both are reasonable for the situation to attract someone’s attention and express an apology or regret in casual ways. However, this does not apply to all kinds of situations.

Strikethrough phrases are awkward or unrecommended ones.

  • すみません/ごめんなさい。ちょっととおしてください。(sumimasen/gomennasai. chotto tooshite kudasai. | すみません/ごめんなさい。ちょっと通して下さい。 | Excuse me. Please let me through.)
  • すみません/ごめんなさい、ちゅうもんしてもいいですか?(sumimasen/gomennasai, chuumon shitemo ii desu ka? | すみません/ごめんなさい、注文してもいいですか? | Excuse me, I’d like to order.)
  • すみません/ごめんなさい/ごめんください、どなたかいらっしゃいますか?(sumimasen/gomen/gomen kudasai, donataka irasshaimasu ka? | Excuse me. Is anyone here?)
  • すみません/ごめんなさい、もういちどいってください (sumimasen/gomennasai, mouichido ittekudasai | Excuse me. Could you say it again?)
  • すまない/ごめん、これをつかってもいい? (sumanai/gomen. kore wo tsukattemo ii? | すまない/ごめん。これを使ってもいい? | Excuse me. Can I use this?)
  • ああ、すまん/ごめん。すごくたすかったよ。(aa, suman/gomen. sugoku tasukatta yo. | ああ、すまん/ごめん。すごく助かったよ。 | Oh, thanks. You helped me a lot.)
  • もうこんなじかんだわ。そろそろ、すみません/ごめんなさい/ごめんください。(mou konnajikan dawa. sorosoro sumimasen/gomennasai/gomenkudasai. | もうこんな時間だわ。そろそろ、すみません/ごめんなさい/ごめんください。| It’s already pretty late. Please excuse me.)


ごめんください (gomenkudasai | 御免下さい | Excuse me) is a word typically used when visiting someone, asking for directions, or saying goodbye to someone.

When and How to use “Excuse me” phrases

Knowing “excuse me” phrases is useful, though understanding the appropriate situation and the right tone is also essential.

For instance, saying “excuse me” after sneezing, coughing, or belching isn’t so common in Japan, while it’s considered a general etiquette in Western culture. Besides, there are no expressions like “Bless you” in the Japanese culture.

Let’s take a look at how to use すみません (sumimasen) and other words in Japanese. Below are some suitable situations for “excuse me” and other phrases

Casual form suitable for daily situations

  1. Bumping into someone: すみません (sumimasen), ごめんなさい (gomenasai), しつれい (shitsurei | 失礼)
  2. Walking through a crowd: すみません (sumimasen), ごめんなさい (gomenasai), しつれい (shitsurei | 失礼)
  3. Asking for something: すみません (sumimasen), あの (Ano)
  4. Asking to repeat: すみません (sumimasen), え? (E?)
  5. Getting someone’s attention: すみません (sumimasen), あの (Ano)
  6. Entering a room or a house:おじゃまします (ojama shimasu | お邪魔します)
  7. Leaving a room, seat, someone’s place: おじゃましました (ojama shimashita | お邪魔しました)
  8. Someone says something rude to you: しつれいな (shitsurei na | 失礼な) *masculine expression, しつれいね (shitsurei ne | 失礼ね) * feminine expression
  9. After sneezing/coughing/belching: すみません (sumimasen), ごめんなさい (gomenasai), しつれい (shitsurei | 失礼)
  10. Visiting someone: すみません (sumimasen), ごめんください (gomen kudasai | 御免下さい)

Formal form suitable for business and other formal situations

  1. Bumping into someone: もうしわけありません (moushiwake arimasen | 申し訳ありません), もうしわけございません (moushiwake gozaimasen | 申し訳ございません), しつれいしました (shitsureishimashita | 失礼しました), しつれいいたしました (shitsurei itashimashita | 失礼いたしました)
  2. Walking through a crowd: しつれいします (shitsurei shimasu | 失礼します), しつれいいたします (shitsurei itashimasu | 失礼いたします)
  3. Asking for something: しつれいですが (shitsureidesu ga | 失礼ですが), おそれいりますが (osoreirimasu ga | 恐れ入りますが)
  4. Asking to repeat: しつれいですが (shitsureidesu ga | 失礼ですが), おそれいりますが (osoreirimasu ga | 恐れ入りますが)
  5. Getting someone’s attention: しつれいします (shitsurei shimasu | 失礼します), しつれいいたします (shitsurei itashimasu | 失礼いたします), おそれいります (osoreirimasu | 恐れ入ります)
  6. Entering a room or a house:しつれいします (shitsurei shimasu | 失礼します), しつれいいたします (shitsurei itashimasu | 失礼いたします)
  7. Leaving a room, seat, someone’s place: しつれいします (shitsurei shimasu | 失礼します), しつれいいたします (shitsurei itashimasu | 失礼いたします)
  8. Someone says something rude to you: しつれいながら (shitsurei nagara | 失礼ながら), おことばですが (otokobadesu ga | お言葉ですが)
  9. After sneezing/coughing/belching: しつれいいたしました (shitsurei itashimashita | 失礼いたしました)
  10. Visiting someone: ごめんくださいませ (gomen kudasai mase | 御免下さいませ)

Wrap Up

In conclusion, knowing how to say “excuse me” in Japanese is an important aspect of effective communication in Japan. Whether it’s asking for someone’s attention, apologizing, or seeking assistance, using these phrases shows respect and consideration for others.

For instance, in a crowded train, saying すみません (sumimasen) helps you navigate through the crowd politely. These simple expressions not only help bridge language gaps but also contribute to fostering positive interactions in various situations across Japan.

To fully understand the nuances and usages requires a deep understanding of Japanese culture and people, but you will eventually get there.

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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