Japanese Train Company Apologizes for Early Departure

In the United States, we're used to late transportation services, but in Japan, early departures can be an issue—even 25 seconds early. Japan's rail system is known as "one of the most punctual railway services in the world."

West Japan Railways (JR West) issued a statement and formal apology for the delay: "The great inconvenience we placed upon our customers was truly inexcusable.” The statement included a commitment to do better: “We will be thoroughly evaluating our conduct and striving to keep such an incident from occurring again." 

Also interesting, from a cultural perspective, is the decision process: the conductor mistakenly thought the train was departing at 7:11. Realizing the mistake but having already closed the doors and seeing no waiting passengers (although a few were waiting), the conductor decided to leave early rather than reopening the doors, which could have caused the train to be late, a far worse result.

A Sora News article explains the impact on the Japanese people:

"Being six minutes late is enough to get you in trouble in with bosses and teachers in Japan, and those who missed a transfer because they couldn’t take the 7:12 would be even later reaching their destination."

Back in 2013, I wrote about NY Metro-North's failure to apologize for a derailment that killed four people. Although the MTA has been more willing to apologize lately, this situation represents a stark contrast.

Image source.


  • How would you describe the cultural differences—about both time and apologies—between Japan and the United States illustrated in this situation? What might account for these differences?
  • What are the risks of over-apologizing?
  • How does this situation illustrate accountability and integrity as character dimensions?