Has he apologized or not? A cross-cultural misunderstanding between the UK and Japan on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of VJ Day in Britain

Kumiko Murata


This paper will examine the misunderstanding between the British and Japanese governments in the interpretation of the letter of apology (according to the British government)/ congratulation (according to the Japanese government) sent by the then Japanese Prime Minister to the then British Prime Minister just before the 50th anniversary of VJ Day in Britain. It will first investigate what the speech act 'apology' entails in these two different discourse communities and then explore how this speech act was differently interpreted on the special occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War by the two former enemy governments according to their respective interests and differing social and political pressures from war veterans and bereaved families. Using a selection of newspaper articles from this period, the paper will illustrate how deeply wider social, political and historical backgrounds can affect the interpretation of linguistic meaning and how the interpretation of an utterance can vary depending on the context. It will also demonstrate how the use of vague expressions and culturally loaded styles could lead to misinterpretation or misunderstanding, referring to the letter written by the then Japanese Prime Minister. The letter was said to have originally been meant to be one of congratulation by the sender but was not interpreted in this way by the receiver. Finally, I will reemphasize the importance of taking the context into consideration in utterance interpretation.

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