The Law and Culture of the Apology in Korean Dispute Settlement (With Japan and the United States in Mind)

This Article addresses the apology in civil dispute settlement in Korea, Japan’s neighbor across the East Sea, using the U.S.-Japan comparative discussion as a helpful frame of reference. Part I provides the necessary background on the meaning of the apology and the leading commentary along the U.S.-Japan axis, beginning with the work of Wagatsuma and Rosett. Culture appears in this discussion in two regards. First, a question arises as to whether the very meaning of the apology as noted in the commentary reflects the U.S. cultural orientation, or instead has universal application. Second, some argue that cultural norms explain the differences between the U.S. and Japanese use of the apology. With this foundation in place, the discussion turns to Korea. Part II begins with a brief description of the relevant social and political developments in contemporary Korea, and then, using the specific cultural indicators that shape the apology in Japan, examines the Korean tendency to apologize. The discussion notes that although the indicators suggest that Korea might have an approach quite similar or equal to that seen in Japan, events and trends in contemporary Korea suggest that it is too early to draw such a conclusion. Part III delves further into the Korean apology and Korean law, as well as the relationship between the two. This Part begins with an introduction to what an apology means in Korea, how it is delivered, and the legal culture’s reaction to it. The discussion then addresses the specific issue of the legality of a court-ordered apology in Korea, using the U.S. and Japanese positions as comparative points of reference, and invites discussion on how each jurisdiction’s approach might reflect its larger societal culture.