Business Japanese is certainly not my strong point. Personally, I’ve never wanted to work in a Japanese company, because it just doesn’t mesh well with me.
As a result, I’m not the best at speaking business Japanese. Yeah, I understand it, but if you ask me to make a sales call using polite, professional, business Japanese, then I’m probably going to panic.
Because of this, I’ve left this topic to a guest writer, Martin, who has solid experience making sales calls in a Japanese-speaking business setting. My worst nightmare.
To speak legitimate, native-like business Japanese, you need to have a pretty good grasp of 尊敬語 (sonkeigo) and 謙譲語 (kenjougo), “honorific” and “humble” forms. As a result, this article might be a bit difficult if you’re still a beginner.
Hope you enjoy, everyone.
Good luck with your studies,
One of the biggest challenges with learning Japanese is that there are so many different types of register (i.e, speaking/writing formally or informally, etc.,) we need to master in order to hold our own in Japan that it can be daunting.
Just because you can hold a conversation in an izakaya for an hour doesn’t mean you can talk your customer into buying your company service.
My Experience Using Business Japanese
I remember when I was just starting out as a broker in Tokyo, I really struggled with using appropriate business Japanese when discussing contracts with other brokers.
I represented expats looking to buy or rent in Tokyo. The process in Japan is very convoluted so this means I would have to essentially, not only sell my service to my expat clientele, but also I would have to sell my clients as “good tenants” to Japanese brokers. They then in turn would sell the idea to the landlord. Japanese landlords are very finicky if I may say so myself. They will turn away ready-to-buy expats the moment they smell anything 怪しい（あやしい ayashii = “fishy”).
This meant, my so-so Ok business Japanese wasn’t cutting it. I had to learn to use appropriate humble speech and honorific speech with brokers and also learn trigger words to get them to trust me in spoken and email communication.
I had some really tough cases. But thanks to the help of my colleagues and lots of Yahoo group discussions on Keigo (among native speakers), I started to get down a system for cold calls and broker visits.
One case in particular was a real tough one.
An orphanage was looking for a house to hold 5-7 or so teenage girls in southern Tokyo near a school. They had backing and money was not at all an issue really. Well, they did have a budget. Not only did I need to find a good house in a good school district for them (IN JAPANESE MIND YOU!), I had to cold call brokers who represented the house and try to get them just to let us see it!
I had a list of 50 or some brokers to call and I remember being turned down over 37 times in a string of days!!!
But as Tony Robbins always says, “Change your approach.”
I worked on my keigo and got a bit more “passive aggressive” on the phone. I stopped apologizing yet spoke humbly. It was a hard balancing act in my not-at-all-native Japanese. But, we finally were able to get them in a house. Sad that so many landlords turned down having orphans in their houses, but in the end we found a way.
maa, ‘owari yokereba subete yoshi’ to iimasu yo ne
(The Japanese equivalent of “Tout est bien qui finit bien” or “All’s well that ends well.”)
When you use Japanese incorrectly in formal or business situations, usually, people will know you are learning and will forgive you. But if you are selling anything, do not expect such lenience.
Only some people need perfect business Japanese?
Also, it is important I be honest from my observations in Japan interacting with Japanese nationals and expats from all around the globe. If you are a westerner, you might get a smirk and they will let you go. But sadly, there is a double standard for Asian expats: You will maybe get fired for using incorrect Japanese too often. Unfair I know.
Japanese do not use the word 外人 (gaijin) as much for East Asian people. They call them by where they are from (韓国人 [kankokujin, “Korean”] or 中国人 [chuugokujin, “Chinese”]). The added level of identity comes with some baggage that it is assumed that if Koreans or Chinese learn Japanese, they should know it really well.
Me being a US citizen with non-Asian features, I can get away with using incorrect Japanese in certain situations. But again, no one is forgiven in the world of sales. No matter what background you have, get your Japanese on point if you plan on selling anything!
What are some of the things I had to learn when working in Japanese? Well, I know it sounds like a lot but let’s start with some of the basics.
*In order to make best use of this list, make sure you are familiar with basic Keigo and Kenjogo. If you are still using Genki 1 or 2 or have under a JLPT level 3, a lot of this may be a bit over your head for the moment.
By the way, if you are in or just moving on from Genki, my preferred route would be Genki series OR Mina No Nihongo –> Yookoso 1 and onward until finished (more in depth and detailed than Genki or Mina no nihongo) –> Intermediate Japanese by Japan Times –> Readers, JLPT texts and possibly Tobira while supplementing with JapanesePod101 and/or other audio-visual based materials like the free NHK Japanese course or others here.
Business Japanese – Phrases & Vocabulary
Now back to today’s Japanese for business lesson. Words to use to your boss, your clientele or in very formal situations in spoken or written Japanese:
I understand, I got the message,
With Shochi-shimashita, the main difference between the others is that we are not only saying we got the message, but that we concur with the listener or reader
“It has been a while, hasn’t it?”
It has been a while (hasn’t it?).
Great for when you are getting back in touch with someone and want to say more than just, “Hey, so uh, genki kana?”
I sometimes use ごぶさたしております as a joke in speech but usually it is just best for email.
“Excuse me.” / “I’m sorry.”
For those of you who have only learned Japanese from books, this may come as a surprise but in casual speech, it is common to say, “Suimasen.” This is never ok for business unless you are drinking.
Along the same lines as “Suimasen,” Azasu is perfectly Ok for bars or Izakaya and especially among young people. This is never ok in any business situation. Stick to Arigatou gozaimasu or Arigatou gozaimashita only.
“I see.” / “I got it.”
Many Japanese do not know this but naruhodo (I see, I got it) never needs a desu at all. Do not copy others that put a desu or desu ne after naruhodo. You will come off as uneducated.
Lit. As you say it is, or “You are right.”
The change from “I see, I got it,” to “You are right,” or “It is as you say” delegates authority to the other party and helps them gain confidence in you. The more you build them up, the more of your requests they will accept. It is a give and take thing.
“What shall we do?”
What shall we do?
The only difference is どう vs いかが which more or less has the same meaning.
Gokurosama, is only used towards inferiors at work that are part of the in-group such as to your employees to figuratively pat them on the back for doing a good job at work (don’t actually pat them!).
Otsukaresama desu is great for colleagues or any kind of equal level relationship. Some Japanese do say, “Otsukaresama de gozaimasu.” But it is very rare and still not yet appropriate for your customers or boss. Instead, find something to thank them for and say “何々（なになに）はありがとうございます.”
Example: Thanks for (that thing you did) today.
Referring To Your Company
When referring to your own company, saying, “Watashi no kaisha”will make you sound like a kid or a teenage girl possibly. In speaking and writing, the humble term, “Heisha” is preferred. In writing specifically (usually contracts), “Tousha” will also be used. It translates more to “This company” whereas “Heisha” is more like, “This lowly company” = humility embedded in the expression; very Japanese.
“I am going to do X”
If you here sales presentations or any kind of presentation for that matter, you may hear people say “Saseteitadakimasu” a lot whenever they really just want to say, “I’m/We are going to do X or Y.” Like when they will pass out handouts they may say:
“Here are the handouts for today’s meeting.” (The natural definition will depend on context. It could also be “Here are documents for [whatever].”)
Note, using the causative “Sasete” + humble for do, “itadakimasu” is ONLY SUITABLE if the 相手（あいて, other party） has given you prior permission to do whatever you will do. Young people in particular in Japan think that by saying this all the time, they will earn respect. Most people will not say anything but 国語 (こくご, “national language”; i.e., “Japanese”) experts will quietly gaff.
Simply, いたします or しております is really good enough. Straight out of Genki 2 but believe it or not, it is useful for any formal occasion.
“Are you so-and-so?”
A lot Japanese even mix this up. So you know you are supposed to meet so and so at 15:00 at Doutor (a common coffee shop in Tokyo) and you see a man in a suit ordering a coffee. You think it may be your customer so you ask, “You are so and so, right?”
In Japanese, we could be OK using “○○さんでしょうか?” But since we want to show admiration and use honorable language, we say, “○○様でしょうか？” OR level up, “○○様でいらっしゃいますか/ね “ (? marks are NEVER needed in Japanese even though people add them often.)
All of the above would be perfectly OK. But never use, “でございます,” the humble form of desu, after the name of your customer or an outside group member.
Mastering Business Japanese
…is difficult, yeah? But with time these things will start to make a lot more sense.
If you have any questions or want to know more about proper use of Keigo in business, let us know. Leave us a comment and if we don’t know the answer, we’ll do our best to find one for you.
Wow, that was really informative.
A lot of these points were new to me as well. Maybe it’s time I mastered business Japanese…
Actually, no… I’m just gonna read novels about space or something.
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