MotoGP: Did Yamaha apologize? Yes, but the Japanese way

 The engineer Kouji Tsuya (picture) organized an unexpected press conference in Austria as the Project Leader of Yamaha’s M1 for MotoGP. His public apology has a strong symbolic value that is making a sensation. To better understand the meaning of his message, that sounded like an admission of guilt, we interviewed Riccardo Gabarrini, a researcher of Japanese culture, translator, and author of Japanese language manuals for Italian learners. Riccardo, together with his wife Aki, founded the well-known website, one of the best websites where Italian language speakers can learn Japanese. Gabarrini analyzed for us the video with Yahama’s official apology, and he gave us a very interesting interpretation of his speech. We found out that the meeting with the journalists might have been set up following orders from upstairs, just to keep the growing controversy down.

Riccardo, you analyzed the video where the engineer Tsuya apologizes. It is very uncommon, at least in the World Championship, to see such a behavior. What’s your idea?

«Well, you know, maybe in the context of this kind of competition, where there are so many different demands, it might become more complicated, but in Japan apologizing is as Art. Everyone works hard for it, at all ages and from any social class.».

What do you mean?

«You need to consider that in Japan one can apologize for many reasons. Apologizing (even when you are not wrong) is not dishonorable or seen as a sign of weakness, it is just the right thing to do. In the sense that, as I’m apologizing, I get the honor and I’m also making an elegant gesture».

So in this case, how do we interpret Yamaha’s gesture?

«Like a Japanese thing. In the last few weeks, we heard the riders complaining: that’s why the Iwata family decided to step in. Pay attention to the main characters: they didn’t send a spokesperson, someone from the middle management, or somebody else that wouldn’t have really represented the firm. They chose a key figure: the one who created the bike. So the apologizing strategy was certainly a concerted action. The message is clear: with this admission of guilt we want to cool everyone’s down and keep on going ahead».

This was just a formality to avoid further tensions then?

«There’s something strange. Unfortunately, the press conference was in English: if it had been in Japanese, the choice of words and syntax, and the possible bow would have told us much more. But I was impressed that Tsuya-san didn’t simply apologize, he even gave details related to the problem, such as electronics and frame for example. This is not part of the usual ritual: this can give you a sense of the importance of this apology, despite all formality».

The riders didn’t seem to like the gesture. Valentine Rossi said: «I didn’t know about the apologies, I know it now and I thank them for that. But from my point of view, they should fix the bikes first and then apologize. We need results, and we want them as soon as possible because right now we are still far behind Honda and Ducati».

«As a Westerner, Valentino would have maybe preferred a private apology, as we tend to give more importance to personal relationships. But for the Japanese, public apologies are much more important, even more at this level. A large firm such as Yamaha has no need to make a public apology because everyone is considered to be part of the same family (and in a Japanese family it is really rare to say “Thanks” or “I’m sorry” as this would be considered a very cold and detached behavior). They are saving Valentino’s honor by taking the guilt on them (and they expected some gratitude, not more rebukes) ».

Is this just about different mentalities?

«Try to understand: do you know what Japanese people say when they hear a group of Italians in a restaurant? That the atmosphere is “getting hotter”: meaning, we are noisy. Again, we are “kind to women”: meaning, we are players. This is because they tend to avoid direct insults, but they still want to send the message, with the smallest possible embarrassment and menace. Tsuya’s message is clear enough: “With this apology, Yamaha is making a commitment and is taking complete responsibility for the situation. But from now on we will go on with no more controversy”. You need to consider that Japanese people are very strict when it comes to decision-making».

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