Translation Advice: Gomen Nasai

This post was written by Dark_Sage. He is Dark_Sage.


The number one goal of any translation should be to convey with 100% accuracy the perfect, original meaning of a line. For this reason, “gomen nasai” should not be translated.



What does ‘gomen nasai’ mean?

what's the answer chuunibyou

Sometimes gomen nasai means “I’m sorry.” Sometimes it means “I am sorry.” And sometimes it means “I am really sorry.” Like most Japanese words, it’s incredibly deep due to the variety of meanings it can have, unlike other, filthy languages like English where words only have one set definition. (Fact: In English, “sorry” only means “sorry”.)



Why is it untranslateable?



It’s impossible to get across the intricacies of Japanese culture by using English words. “Gomen nasai” is imbued with the essence of the onsen, the takoyaki, and the kozatoi. You just don’t get that from “sorry” and you never will.

Why deprive people by forcing an inferior culture onto them? It just doesn’t make sense.



anime is so deep

As I touched on before, “gomen nasai” has way too many deep meanings to be appropriately translated with just one word.

For example, if you accidentally elbow a friend and they wince in pain, you could say “gomen nasai” and it would make sense. I don’t know of any English word that could appropriately convey that exact scenario, but gomen nasai does.

Another scenario would be a salaryman apologizing to his boss for accidentally hiring a hooker with a company credit card and then killing and burying her on company property. A simple “I’m sorry.” wouldn’t suffice here, but “gomen nasai”? Yes, that would work.


Polite language


Because the Japanese use polite language and there is no such thing in English, expressions of apology are better in their natural, polite form. You wouldn’t ask a hobo to design a building, would you? No, that’s the architect’s job. Similarly, you wouldn’t want apologies to be done in English because that’s the Japanese language’s job.

It’s all about providing a natural experience for the viewer, and this is simply the best way to do so.



Best practices

Since it’s clear that gomen nasai is untranslatable, we fansubbers (and translators everywhere!) should endeavor to leave the phrase in its natural Japanese state — perfect and undisturbed.

For the gaijins who don’t speak Japanese yet, it might be useful to include a one-line TL Note that perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the word. This way the viewers can fully understand Japanese culture like we do.

TL Note - Gomen Nasai


For more information on this subject and others, please contact your local Japanese expert.

81 thoughts on “Translation Advice: Gomen Nasai”

  1. Having watched quite a few anime, I sometimes saw people attempting to translate “gomen nasai”. Usually this only ever works when throughout the whole show “gomen nasai” is used in its standard form and never changes – the English language, not the people working with it, is just not capable to properly express all the intricate nuances contained in “gomen nasai”, especially not when context and varying situations/relations come into play.
    Besides of those shortcomings found in most TLs/Editors English, the other important question one should ask themselves is what the fans want – and as polls show the majority wants their “gomen nasai” to be “gomen nasai” and not the infinitely inferior “sorry”.

  2. I understand that the Japanese language is more polite, in different levels more polite, and more ways more polite than English language is.
    However, it does not mean that it, the subject, should not be translated. In a situation where the viewer understands that the person who says it is apologetic, in a simple form that is just sorry, why put it instead of sorry? Tired of translating? Lazy to translate a word commonly used? Fine, both then.
    You are aware that not all viewers have watched anime for the nth time.

    Gomen nasai~

    • konbanwa nigga! ore see that omae have sugoi nihonglish skills. ore think omae will suki me as your tomodachi. waaaaaa, ore am so yokatta that ore kita to this SAITO and deatta omae. jitsu is that ore was getting kind of sabishii being the hitori of nihonglish speaker koko.

  3. Gomen nasai, but I noticed this: “Similarly, you wouldn’t apologies to be done in English”
    “wouldn’t apologies”.
    So yeah, just letting you know.

      • Daijoubu. We’ve all had that happen to us before.

        (By the way, for you pathetic English speaking idiots: “Daijoubu” roughly and liberally translates to “that’s okay” however the true meaning cannot be fully comprehended in English because so much of the culture is lost in translation.)

  4. So really, we should all just stfu and learn Japanese, because you whiny fuckers can’t be bothered to translate anything properly. /why I quit fanslation

  5. I think we need a huge, blinking text at the top stating that this is a parody on the whole honorifics arguments. There still seem to be people that just don’t get it. ~_~

    • I think the parodying doesn’t include honorifics but only expressions/words like itadakimasu, kouhai, ojamashimasu, etc. since D_S doesn’t deduct points for keeping honorifics.
      I think keeping honorifics is daijobu but I also don’t mind if they’re not kept. I prefer that honorifics be kept if the setting’s Japanesey(e.g. a koukousei in Japan), but I want the non-honorific words to be translated.

      • Search this in the above text:
        “Because the Japanese use polite language and there is no such thing in English”
        Click on the link and you’ll see why I’m right. ;)

        • Kuso! Didn’t click the link when I read the post. Hontou ni gomennasai. Oh well, I guess you’re right. It’s parodying the arguments. But not against keeping them honorifics.

          • I would also like to mention that just because I say one thing in an article does not mean it encapsulates my entire worldview.

            While I tend to fall in the “dropping honorifics” camp, I feel that the more Japanesey of anime series are more enjoyable with the added “flavor”. And while I think the arguments in favor of keeping things like “itadakimasu” and “konnichiwa” are rubbish, there is something to be said for keeping various words in Japanese that don’t translate over well. For example, certain food dishes and mythological creatures.

            • Hai! Shitteru. I think that applies to most, if not all people desu~ I just instantly replied to corocoro’s comment thinking that he meant that you were *against* keeping honorifics in translations. I am gomennasai, Daako_Seiji-sama.

              While I generally prefer keeping honorifics (I only prefer them dropped if the anime is very not Japanasey, desu~), I do agree with the rest of what you said.

              • When you look at the arguments about honorifics, you usually find people take one of the camps and start preaching it like a dogma – all sorts of silly justifications included.
                Using your brain to make case-to-case decisions is too hard for most. :p

  6. Well, it’s a sorry state of affairs if any group DOESN’T use gomen nasai in their subs… Maybe they should be named and shamed?

  7. なんだ、ジャパニーズをトークしてるんじゃないか。インタレスティングなトピックだね。ミーもジョインインするか。

  8. I think this is similar to the term “nakama” which cannot be translated effectively to english… there have been attempts such as “friend”, or “comrade”, which doesn’t seem to do it justice…

  9. I guess the thing I love the most from these posts is to see who are the first ones to take this article seriously.

    People will naturally troll them, and if the bambi still doesn’t get it and argues back, *that* is when the real hilarity ensues.

  10. I feel GOMENNASAI for myself right now, I can’t believe I read till the end of the posts. That’s one, and two, I can’t believe my group’s given up on using any Japanese-ness in any and all of their releases…
    I can so not be any more GOMENNASAI for my group.

  11. Actually I learned that gomen nasai is very casual, you wouldn’t use it to apologize to your superior about the whole hooker story … (Moushiwake arimasen seems to be more appropriate)


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