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Ultimate Guide to Best Japanese Business Phrases

Learning Japanese business phrases can greatly enhance your ability to communicate effectively and professionally. Japanese business phrases are also essential for establishing rapport, conveying respect, and conducting business transactions smoothly in Japan. Whether you’re planning to work with Japanese colleagues, partners, or clients, having a grasp of these expressions can be a valuable asset in having productive interactions and fostering a deeper understanding of Japanese business culture. 

As we mentioned in our Foreigner’s Guide to Japanese Market Entry, understanding the Japanese consumer is one of the most important aspects of entering the Japanese market. In this article, we will be providing you with some key Japanese business phrases and their meanings to help you in your business endeavors.

Unique Japanese Business Culture

Japanese business culture is known for its distinct characteristics that set it apart from many other countries. One aspect of this unique culture that we will highlight is politeness and the rigidity of language in professional settings, particularly the use of “Keigo.” These elements play a crucial role in shaping how business is conducted in Japan.

Japanese business interactions have cultural norms with a high degree of politeness. It’s essential to use respectful language and manners when communicating with colleagues, superiors, or clients. One of these norms is the use of formal language or Keigo.

Keigo is a form of the Japanese language that is used in professional settings to show respect and politeness. It consists of honorific and humble expressions, and its correct usage is vital. Japanese business people–ranging from service jobs to executives are expected to at least be familiar with Keigo to convey proper respect and maintain harmonious relationships in the workplace.

Woman using Japanese business phrases

Business phrases, including those related to Keigo, are immensely important in professional settings. They demonstrate your commitment to understanding and respecting Japanese culture and etiquette. Knowing these phrases can help you build trust, create positive impressions, and navigate the intricacies of Japanese business interactions effectively.

Additionally, knowing Japanese business phrases, culture and language can convey the impression that you are committed to a long-term presence in Japan. Japanese companies often approach foreign business relationships with caution, as past experiences with short-term-focused foreign firms have sometimes been challenging. Demonstrating cultural understanding and language proficiency can help bridge this gap and foster more fruitful collaborations.

To learn more about how Japanese business culture can affect your business, check out our podcast episode on Japanese Business Culture with Rochelle Kopp!

Top 5 Tips to Get Started on Japanese

  1. Sentence structure differences

Learning Japanese may be difficult if you’re used to English. For starters, English has an SVO (Subject + Verb + Object) sentence structure. Meanwhile, Japanese has the SOV (Subject + Object + Verb) sentence structure

For example, a sentence in English that goes:

I + used + the toilet (English) 

becomes 

I + toilet + used (Japanese)

  1. Japanese Alphabet Script

The Japanese language employs three different types of alphabets: Kanji, hiragana, and katakana. As kanji is derived from Chinese characters, the characters are more like pictograms in that they have meaning as well as sounds. Meanwhile, hiragana and katakana are both used phonetically but they differ in usage. Katakana is used for foreign names and loan words. For more information on the difference, read these additional resources on Hiragana and Katakana and on Kanji

  1. Particle

Instead of changing the word to adjust it to how it’s used, particles are attached to words to signify what it’s doing in the sentence. The particles aren’t meaningful alone but are still necessary in every sentence.

  1. Omission

Topics and subjects that are obvious or repeated can be omitted from the sentence. For example:

わたし は がくせいです
Watashi wa gakuseidesu
I am a student

vs.

わたし は がくせいです
Watashi wa gakuseidesu
I am a student

  1. No Singular and plural nouns

There’s no difference between singular and plural nouns in Japanese. There’s no need to add an “s” or transform the noun.

Japanese Business Phrases for Greetings and Politeness

Greetings are important in a workplace setting. It shows professionalism that represents your company and your attitude to others. Some people might take offense to you not greeting them so be sure to learn these phrases!

  1. “Good Morning” – ○○さん、おはようございます (○○ san, ohayō gozaimasu)

This is a more formal way of saying good morning that’s perfect for the workplace. Use in the morning/before 12 PM and remember to add in the person’s family name before san to address them appropriately.

  1. “Hello” – ○○さん、こんにちは (○○ san, konnichiwa)

Once again, this is a more formal greeting used mainly in the workplace setting. Use this in the afternoon/after 12 PM.

  1. “Good Evening” – ○○さん、こんばんは (○○ san, konbanwa)

This is a polite greeting used in the evening, typically after sunset.

  1. “Goodbye” – さようなら (Sayōnara)

Sayōnara” (さようなら) is a common and well-known Japanese farewell phrase. It is often used to say “Goodbye” when parting with someone. However, it’s essential to note that “Sayōnara” can carry a sense of finality and is typically used in situations where you may not see the person for a long time or ever again. It’s best not to use this in the workplace. 

In more casual settings or when you plan to meet again soon, other farewell phrases like “じゃあね” (jā ne) or “またね” (mata ne) are more appropriate.

  1. “Good Night” –  おやすみなさい (Oyasuminasai)

Oyasuminasai” (おやすみなさい) is a polite Japanese phrase used to bid someone good night. It is a formal and respectful way to wish someone a restful night’s sleep.

While “Oyasuminasai” is commonly used in Japanese culture, it’s essential to recognize that it is a more formal expression of “good night.” In informal settings or with close friends and family, you can simply say “おやすみ” (oyasumi) for a shorter and less formal version of the same sentiment.

  1. “Goodbye” –  おさにき しつれいします (Osaniki shitusurei shimasu)

Osakini shitusurei shimasu” (おさきに しつれいします) is one of the Japanese business phrases that more closely resembles “pardon me for leaving first” and is only meant to be used when you leave the office before your colleague. 

  1. “Goodbye” –  おつかれさま でした (Ostukaresama deshita)

This phrase also means goodbye but is meant to be used for when your colleague leaves the office before you. 

  1. “Please” –  どうぞ (Dōzo)

Dōzo” (どうぞ) is a common Japanese word that is often used to express politeness and offer something to someone. It can be translated as “please,” “go ahead,” or “here you go” depending on the context. Here are some common uses of “dōzo”:

  • Offering something: When you want to offer something to someone, like a seat, a drink, or food, you can say “どうぞ” (dozo) to indicate that they can take it or use it.
  • Inviting someone to go ahead: If you want someone to go ahead of you or to enter a room first, you can say “どうぞ” (dozo) to invite them to do so politely.
  • Accepting an offer: When someone offers you something, you can respond with “どうぞ” (dozo) to accept it politely.
  • Asking for permission: You can also use “どうぞ” (dozo) when asking for permission or indicating that it’s okay to proceed with something.
  1. “Thanks”  –  どうも (Dōmo)

“どうも” (Dōmo) is a versatile and commonly used Japanese word that doesn’t have a direct one-word translation in English. It’s often employed in various contexts to convey different meanings and expressions. Here are some of the primary usages and interpretations of the word:

  • Thanks: In casual situations, “どうも” can be used as a casual way to say “thanks” or “thank you.” For instance, if someone helps you with something, you can simply respond with “どうも” to express your gratitude.
  • Very: In some cases, “どうも” can emphasize the degree of something.
  1. “Thank You”  –  ありがとうございます (Arigatō gozaimasu

This is another and arguably more common way of saying “Thank you”.

  1. “No worries/You’re welcome”  –  いいえ   (Iie)

While this is more commonly translated as “You’re welcome” it can also be more contextually translated as “no problem” or “no worries”.

  1. すみません (Sumimasen)

This a versatile Japanese word that can be used in various contexts. It has multiple meanings and can be used in different situations. Here are three different ways to use “Sumimasen”:

1. I’m sorry: One common use of “Sumimasen” is to say “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” You can use it when you want to apologize or express regret. For example, if you accidentally bump into someone on the street, you can say “Sumimasen” to apologize.

2. Excuse me: In some situations, “Sumimasen” can also mean asking people to get out of the way such as asking people to step aside while you go through a crowd. 

3. Requesting Assistance: “Sumimasen” can be used to politely request assistance or information. For instance, if you’re lost and need directions, you can say “Sumimasen” to approach someone and ask for help. It’s a polite way to seek assistance from others.

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Introductions and Self-Presentation

First impressions almost always leave a mark. Knowing these essentials will make it simple to introduce yourself and then you can begin customizing it as you start to learn more Japanese business phrases!

EnglishHiraganaRomaji
Nice to meet youはじめまして。hajimemashite.
I am ○○ from  ○○ companyわたしは○○の ○○です。Watashiwa ○○no ○○desu.
When using this, you can either use your family name and then use desu or mention your company. You can do that by saying your company name then no then say your family name with desu.Ex. (company name)no (your name)desu
Please take care of me/Nice to meet you (for meeting someone for the first time)どうぞよろしくおねがいします。Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
There’s no simple way to translate this phrase but it means both “please take care of me” and “nice to meet you”. You say this when you first meet someone as a way of hoping that your future interactions will also go well.

Use the above phrases in that order to make a simple introduction!

You’ll be using variants of this self-introduction everywhere and every time you meet new people. It’s immensely important to remember these simple phrases to make a great impression and show that you’re reliable in business. If you’re lost on how you can network in Japan after learning this self-introduction, make sure to read this Guide to Business Networking in Japan which provides all the know-how on the Japanese business community.

Japanese Business Phrases to Use at Work

The following Japanese business phrases are essential phrases to use in a Japanese workplace:

EnglishHiragana Phrase (Phonetic)Romaji Phrase
Excuse me, do you have a moment?すみません、いまおじかんだいじょうぶですか。Sumimasen, Ima ojikan daijōbudesuka?
I’m sorry and I take responsibilityもうしわけございません   (でした)。Moushiwake gozaimasen (deshita).
Is Mr./Ms/Mrs.○○ there?”○○ さんはいらっしゃいますか。○○-san wa irasshaimasuka.
Please hold (for phone conversations)しょうしょうおまちくださいませ。Shōshō omachi kudasaimase.
○○ is not here___ はただいまがいしゅつしております。___ wa tadaima gaishutsu shiteorimasu.
Thanks for callingおでんわいただき、どうもありがとうございました。Odenwa itadaki, doumo arigatou gozaimashita.
Mr./Ms./Mrs.○○, please start the presentation○○さん、ぷれぜんをおねがいします。○○-san, purezen o onegaishimasu.
Any thoughts on this project?このじあんについて、なにかいけんはありますかKono jian ni tsuite, nanika iken wa arimasuka.
I agree with Mr./Ms./Mrs.○○’s opinionわたしは○○さんのいけんにさんせいです。Watashi wa ○○-san no iken ni sansei desu.

Dining out with others

using Japanese Business Phrases in a restaurant

Dining out with colleagues and people you have networked with is one of the better ways to get to know them. To dine out in a Japanese establishment, you should at least know how to start, end, and order a meal. 

Use the following phrases to show that you’re in touch with Japanese culture and that you are someone your colleagues can talk to outside of work: 

  1. “Thank you for this food”  –  いただきます   (itadakimasu)

Use this phrase before your meal while putting your hands together in a prayer form. 

  1. “Thank you for that food”  –  ごちそうさまでした  (gochisōsamadeshita)

Use this phrase after you’ve finished your meal. Make sure to finish as much as you can as Japanese culture views leftovers badly. It’s an old Japanese saying that there’s a god in every grain of rice!

  1. “Can I have ___?”  –  ___ ください   ( ___ kudasai)

Use this phrase while ordering your food along with number counters. 

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More Japanese Vocabulary for the Office

Here are some additional vocabulary to use with the Japanese business phrases for the workplace.

Word in JapaneseWord in English
仕事/
しごと/
shigoto
Job or profession 
銀行印/
ぎんこういん/
ginkō-in
Bank stamp
電話番号/
でんわばんご/
denwa-bango
Telephone Number
携帯/
けいたい/
keitai
Cellphone
給料/
きょうきゅう/
kyuryuu
Salary
ビジネス/
bijinesu
Business
タスク/
tasuku
Task
会議/
かいぎ/
kaigi
Meeting
Professions
会社員/
かいしゃいん/
kaisha-in
Office worker
エンジニア/
enjinia
Engineer
マネージャー/
mānēja
Manager
秘書/
ひしょ/
hishō
Secretary
弁護士/
べんごし/
bengoshi
Lawyer or attorney
公認会計士/
かいけいし/
kaikeishi
CPA or Certified Public Accountant
Places
会社/
かいしゃ/
kaisha
Company or workplace
銀行/
ぎんこう/
ginkō
Bank
会議室/
かいぎしつ/
kaigishitsu
Conference room
オフィス/
ofisu
Office

Business Etiquette in Japan

Now that we’ve provided all the essential words and phrases to use in the Japanese workplace, you should also know manners that will help you survive when you first get to Japan. In Japan, reading the room through non-verbal communication is essential. This “common sense” ability is sought after when doing business with someone in Japan and those who fail are dubbed “Kuuki yomenai”. For more details on other aspects of business etiquette in Japan, listen to this podcast episode on Japanese Business Manners with Rochelle Kopp.

Meishi

Exchanging business cards is usually done before conversations continue in order to determine the person’s affiliation.

Step 1: Approach the person you intend to offer the card to with nothing in between you. Don’t just toss the card or slide it over. 

Step 2: Offer your card with your right hand facing up and greet the other person. State your name and company clearly with a slight bow. 

Step 3: If you are offered a card, receive it with both hands and keep it on the table if there is one near you. 

For a more in-depth understanding of Meishi, read this guide on Japanese Business Cards which discusses key etiquette with Japanese business cards and where to print them. 

O-shigoto seating arrangement customs

sitting cutsoms in Japan

  • A general tip is to wait for someone to guide you or point you to where you should be sitting. 
  • Seats for guests are usually the following: seats furthest from the door, sofa seats instead of armchair seats, seats with artwork behind them, or seats where the door is visible. 
  • Persons of high status are usually seated in the middle of a long table 
  • Always take the lowest-ranking seat to give off a humble impression. Similarly, if you are given the guest of honor’s seat, make humble refusals. 

For a more in-depth look at O-shigoto, read this additional article

Interested in more Japanese Business related content?

Listen to the Scaling Japan Podcast for more Tips on doing Business in Japan!

O-kaeshi

O-kaeshi is the gift exchange tradition in Japan where gifts are given as a thanks for a previous gift. It’s especially good to remember to give gifts during the season of O-chugen (July) or O-seibo (December) as a sign that you feel indebted to the recipient. When giving okaeshi, it’s essential to follow certain customs and etiquette:

  1. Reciprocity: O-kaeshi is a reciprocal gesture. It’s given in return for a gift you have received, symbolizing your appreciation for the giver. Always respond with an o-kaeshi if you’ve received a gift.
  1. Thoughtfulness: Choose a gift that reflects your appreciation for the original gift and the relationship you share with the giver. It should be considerate and well-thought-out.
  1. Presentation: Present your o-kaeshi gift neatly and thoughtfully wrapped. The presentation is as crucial as the gift itself.
  1. Handing Over: When giving o-kaeshi, offer it with both hands as a sign of respect. Bowing while exchanging gifts is also a common practice.
  1. Thank You Card: Including a handwritten thank-you card expressing your gratitude is a nice touch and adds a personal element to the gesture.
  1. Value: The value of the o-kaeshi gift should be roughly equivalent to the original gift you received. Strive to maintain balance in the exchange.

Remember that o-kaeshi is a way to strengthen social bonds and show appreciation, and adhering to these customs is a sign of respect in Japanese culture.

Useful Resources for Learning Japanese Business Phrases

Here are some useful resources that will help you learn more Japanese business phrases and further guide you on your language journey:

  1. Japan Switch: Japan Switch offers an ultimate guide to learning Japanese business phrases, providing vocabulary and communication skills for professional contexts. Their online courses, books, and website resources can help you boost your proficiency in Japanese business phrases and overall communication. Whether you’re aiming to attain your dream job or enhance your career prospects, Japan Switch is a valuable resource for mastering business Japanese. 
  1. JapanesePod101: JapanesePod101 provides essential Japanese business phrases to help you excel in your career. Their resources include audio lessons, articles, and downloadable materials, making it a practical choice for improving your business communication skills in Japanese as well as learning some more Japanese business phrases. 
  1. KiMi: KiMi offers insights into learning Japanese business phrases, including keigo (polite speech) and essential phrases. It provides study methods and resources to help you navigate the nuances of Japanese business language and culture effectively. 
  1. Tofugu: Tofugu’s Japanese Learning Resources Database includes materials for learning Keigo and Japanese business phrases. They offer textbooks and e-books that can aid in your language journey, especially when it comes to professional communication. 
  1. LinkedIn Learning: LinkedIn Learning provides courses on various aspects of business in Japanese, suitable for beginners and advanced learners. These courses cover language skills and cultural understanding, making them a comprehensive resource for business-oriented language learning. 

These resources offer a range of materials and approaches to help you become proficient in Japanese business phrases and communication. Depending on your learning style and goals, you can explore these options to enhance your skills in this specific area of language learning.

Considering giving Japanese training to all your foreign employees? We can help find you the right trainer. Contact us and get a free 30-minute consultation.

Final Thoughts

When entering or expanding to the Japanese market, you don’t just think about adjusting your business to Japanese tastes but also adjusting yourself. This means changing your mannerisms and definitely learning some Japanese business phrases to get you started on learning the language. The phrases above are the go-to essentials that you can use from day to day in and out of the office. We hope you find them helpful on your journey in Japan. 

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