Polite and Useful Japanese Business Phrases
Working in a Japanese company requires not only knowledge of Japanese business culture but also the use of a polite form of Japanese that is not commonly used in daily life. Though some phrases and words do carry over into everyday normal conversation, some words have a strictly business feel about them that makes them feel quite out of place when they’re not being used in an office setting. For brevity’s sake we are only going to cover these phrases in the context of business situations.
Of the words used in a Japanese office setting, there are those that can be translated quite easily into English and there are a few that don’t have an exact English equivalent. The meaning of these words may change from context and also may be used in a way that may not make sense when literally translated into English. Below are some of the most commonly used Japanese business phrases you will encounter while working in Japan.
Greeting people at the office
- Literal translation: it’s early
Closest English equivalent: Good morning
Usage: Use this with everyone you see when you walk into work. Even if it is no longer morning, when you arrive for the first time at the office that day, you will say おはようございます. If you are saying to your superiors, they may reply with the less formal おはよう.
Osewa ni natte orimasu.
- Literal translation: To become assistance, to be taken care of, to be looked after
Closest English equivalent: Thank you for your kind cooperation. I appreciate your cooperation.
Meaning: The best way to understand this phrase is as a greeting thanking the other party for their support, kindness, and or cooperation. Depending on the context this could also imply that you are thanking them for the support, kindness, cooperation in advance of any services rendered.
Usage: This phrase is used when answering a phone call from a customer (after you know who they are), when greeting someone from another company that you do business with, or at the start of an email to an employee of an outside company that you are doing business with.
Otsukare sama desu.
Literal translation: (you) appear tired, you must be tired (from work)
Closest English equivalent: Good work, thanks for the hard work, Hello / Hi (use toward co-workers)
Meaning: If we were to use the direct translation by itself it could be understood that someone who looks tired has worked hard and that by being tired they have properly done their job. In this sense saying someone looks tired would equate to “good job” and “thanks for the hard work”. The meaning is generally the same in most of the contexts in which the phrase is used.
Usage: This phrase is used mostly as a greeting. It is also used at the start of an inter-office email or phone call to co-workers, when someone finishes a project or presentation, as a goodbye from those who are remaining in the office towards those who are leaving, and as a greeting to co-workers outside the office in lieu of saying “hello”.
Otsukare sama deshita.
Literal translation: you appeared tired, you must be tired (from work)
Closest English equivalent: You did a good job (implying that the work is over), have a good evening, you’ve done great work.
Usage: This is the past tense of “お疲れ様です” and in this situation implies that the work is finished. You may say this at the end of a presentation, a project, or a meeting. Because it implies that something is done or finished it would be best to be a bit more careful when using this. When in doubt, default to using お疲れ様です。
Gokuro sama desu.
Literal translation: appear to have had hardship (suffering, difficulty)
Closest English equivalent: Thank you for your hard work, Good job.
Meaning: The phrase implies a little stronger than お疲れ様です that you worked hard and says that you have undergone hardships and that you must have worked extremely hard. This can be understood as your boss thanking you for your working very hard.
Usage: This phrase while used essentially in the same way as お疲れ様です, has social implications. This phrase is to only be used by a superior to their subordinate.
Asking for assistance at the office
Sumimasen, ima ojikan daijoubu desu ka.
Translation: Excuse me, is now a good time?
Meaning: This phrase basically means “do you have a moment?” or “are you busy right now?”.
Usage: Used as a preamble before starting a conversation with someone who is in the middle of doing something else, or someone who appears to currently be busy.
_ wo mite moratte mo ii desu ka.
Translation: Please look at ____.
Meaning: This is a polite way to ask someone to look at something. It is essentially the same as saying “If it’s okay, can I get you to take a look at ____ for me?”
Usage: When you are asking a co-worker or customer their opinion on something or to have them confirm that you are doing something correctly.
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.
Literal translation: please properly, please well
Closest English equivalent: Thank you in advance, I look forward to working with you, I look forward to seeing you, thank you for your continued assistance
Meaning: The meaning of this phrase varies depending on the context in which it is being used. When greeting someone for the first time it could be understood as “please take care of me”, or “I look forward to working with you”. In the context of asking someone to do something it would mean “please fulfill my request”.
Usage: Used when introducing one self, when asking a favor, at the end of an email. It should be noted that this phrase is always used in regards to something that will happen in the future, not something that has already happened.
translation: Thank you very much
Usage: This will be the most used phrase alongside お疲れ様です. Use this phrase when thanking a co-worker for anything that you would normally reply to with “thanks”.
Literal translation: Thank you very much for the thing you did.
Meaning: While there is no past tense of the word thank you in English, this can be used much in the same way by thanking someone for something they previously did. An example would be saying “ Thank you for getting me a coffee yesterday.” Much like the English version you would mention a time when something happened that you are currently, in this moment, thanking them for.
Usage: Use this when thanking someone for something they did in the past.
Moushi wake gozaimasen (deshita).
Literal translation: I have no excuse to say
Closest English equivalent: I am terribly so sorry, there are no words to express my regret, I’m sorry I have no excuse for my actions
Meaning: This phrase is not just apologizing but in a way taking responsibility for that which has gone wrong. While the phrase does not directly contain the word sorry, it is only used when apologizing deeply. The person apologizing is telling the person that they have wronged that they have no excuses for what they have done and are implying that they deeply regret it.
Usage: Used in a formal setting or in a very serious situation in which you are sorry or regret your actions.
Additional Notes: There is a stronger way of saying this phrase which means that you are truly deeply sorry and have no excuses for your actions and take full responsibility. The phrase is “Makoto ni moushi wake gozaimasen (deshita)” 誠に申し訳ございません（でした）and will most likely be accompanied by a lot of bowing.
Dinning out with your co-workers
Literal translation: To receive
Closest English equivalent: Let’s eat, Dig in, I’m going to eat
Meaning: While there is no direct English equivalent to this phrase it could be understood as “my body is going to receive this food”.
Usage: This phrase is used before you begin eating. This can be used when by oneself and when in groups. If you are eating out with co-workers, you should say this before eating.
Gochi sou sama deshita.
Literal translation: It was a treat, it was a feast
Closest English equivalent: Thank you for the meal, that was delicious, thank you for paying for lunch/dinner (any type of food)
Meaning: When used after eating a meal it means that you are finished and that the meal was good (even if it wasn’t). If someone offers to pay for your meal in situations such as a work party or a lunch meeting you will say this phrase to thank them for treating you.
Usage: After you finished eating or when someone pays for your meal.
Leaving the office
Itte mairi masu.
Literal translation: I’m going (and coming)
Closest English equivalent: See you later, I’ll be back
Meaning: This implies that you will be going somewhere outside of the office and more than likely be returning to the office before the workday is finished. As meetings and appointments can sometimes run late or other circumstances may arise, there is no guarantee that one will be able to return to the office. By being considerate and notifying your co-workers that you will be out of the office, they will be able to notify those needing to contact you that you are currently away from the office at the moment.
Usage: When leaving the office for an appointment or leaving the office for a meeting, appointment etc...
Tadaima Modori mashita
Literal translation: I’m back
Meaning: This is a polite way to say that I have come back after going outside the office for an errand, meeting, or appointment.
Usage: This is used only after you have left the office to let your co-workers know that you have returned. This allows your co-workers to know that you are back so that they can inform you of missed calls and so that if any calls from that point on come for you, they can direct them to you.
Literal translation: to do return
Closest English equivalent: Welcome back
Meaning: When taken literally the phrase is a little bit difficult to wrap your head around. This phrase is best understood as “welcome back”. Within the meaning of this phrase a sense of care that the person who has returned has returned safely.
Usage: After someone has stated that they have returned by either saying “ただいま”(usually at home) or “ただいま戻りました”. This is not said to someone unless they have been in the office and said 行って参ります(or 行ってきます), then came back and said ただいま戻りました (or ただいま).
Osakini shitsurei shimasu.
Literal translation: Excuse me for leaving early
Closest English equivalent: See you tomorrow. Have a good evening. I'm gonna go home. I'm leaving for today. See you next week.
Meaning: This phrase is basically means “excuse me for leaving before you”. As it is quite common for many people in Japan work overtime (although they have been trying to reduce working hours), it was considered rude if you left before your superiors or colleagues. You are being considerate and letting people know that you are leaving the office for the day (so they don’t try to look for you later if a phone call comes or they need to talk to you).
Usage: Used when leaving the office. You say this to everyone remaining in the office while you leave. To those leaving at the same time as you, you can say お疲れ様です.
While it may feel difficult to understand the essence of these words just from reading, once put into practice and used in context, the meanings and feelings that are associated with these words will become more clear and second nature.
You may also be interested in these articles
* Japanese Office Documents
* Japan Business Card Etiquette
* Business Japanese - Telephone Phrases
* A Beginner's Guide to Japanese Business Etiquette
* Japanese Verbal & Nonverbal Communication for Business