In Japan, email is considered a formal way of communicating.
As such, there are certain rules of etiquette that should be followed to avoid misunderstanding or unintentionally causing offense.
When writing an email in Japan, you should be mindful of the greetings and sign-off you use, the tone, the length of the email, and how timely your responses are.
Using appropriate greetings is highly important when writing emails in Japan.
You should start your email with an appropriate greeting, depending on your relationship with the recipient.
- Dear [name]-san – When writing an email to someone you do not know well or a business associate, use “Dear [name]-san as adding “-san” after the person’s name is a sign of respect. If you are writing to someone with whom you have a closer relationship or a friend, you can use “Dear [name]-chan” or “Dear [name]-kun.”
- お世話になっております (Osewa ni natte orimasu) – This is a formal greeting that can be used at the beginning of an email to show respect and gratitude for the recipient. It means “I am indebted to you for your kind support.”
- いつもお世話になっております (Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu) – This is even more formal than the previous greeting. It can be translated as “I am always indebted to you for your kind support.”
- お疲れ様です (Otsukaresama desu) – This is a common greeting in Japanese workplaces that shows appreciation for someone’s hard work. Its translation is “Thank you for your hard work.”
- こんにちは (Konnichiwa) – This is one with which many people are familiar! It simply means “hello” and can be used in both formal and informal settings during the day.
- おはようございます (Ohayou gozaimasu) – This is a morning greeting and more formal than simply writing おはよう (Ohayou) on its own, which is more informal. It can be translated as “Good morning.”
- こんばんは (Konbanwa) – This greeting is a general one that is used in the evening and translates as “Good evening.”
It is important to remember to use the right level of formality in the greeting based on your relationship with the person you are contacting. Don’t forget to show honorifics such as “-san” to show your respect.
When writing a Japanese email, the tone should be polite, respectful, and formal.
- Be polite – In Japan, there are different levels of politeness that you can use depending on what the situation requires and who you are emailing. Polite language always equates to respectful language, so always use it regardless of whether you are emailing a colleague or a friend.
- Avoid casual language and slang – Due to the above, you should avoid ‘text-speak’ and abbreviations. These are not appropriate for formal emails.
- Use honorifics – As mentioned in greetings, honorifics are an important part of setting the tone right in an email. Use “-san”, “-sama” or “-sensai” as appropriate depending on the person’s age, position, and relationship to you.
- Show gratitude – In Japan, showing gratitude is an important part of the culture. Expressing your thanks and appreciation is important and is a good way of keeping the tone respectful and polite.
The Japanese value brevity. Keep your emails as concise as you can whilst still conveying your desired message.
Japanese emails should typically be short and keep to the point, with a length of around five to ten sentences.
However, the length of your email may vary depending on the relationship you have with the sender and the purpose of the email.
For example, if you are offering a business proposal, this may well be longer than a general email to a colleague asking for information.
We should probably note here that the Japanese language has a structure that is formal, allowing for clear and concise communication.
Compared with other languages, Japanese sentences tend to be shorter. This can make it easier for you to convey information in a shorter amount of space.
Overall, keep your emails to the point and don’t waffle. Focus on what’s important and avoid any unnecessary ‘fluff’. This will help your recipient understand your message more clearly.
As with greetings, signing off your email in the right way is an important part of Japanese email etiquette.
Here are some ways you can sign off your emails:
- 敬具 (Keigu) – This is a formal email sign-off that is translated as “sincerely” or “respectfully.” This is appropriate when sending an email to someone in a position of authority or when sending a business email.
- よろしくお願いします (Yoroshiku onegaishimasu) – This is quite a versatile sign-off that can be used to request a favor, express your thanks, or show your appreciation. It is translated as “Thank you in advance” or “Please take care of this for me.” If you have an ongoing professional relationship with your email recipient, this is a good way of signing off the email.
- 以上 (Ijou) – This is used to show that you’re at the end of your email and is translated to “that’s it” or “that’s all.” This is quite a neutral way of ending your emails and can be used in informal settings as well as formal ones.
- ご確認ください (Gokakunin kudasai) – This is a polite way of requesting that your recipient confirms that they have read the information within it. It is translated as “Please let me know if there are any issues” or simply “please confirm.” If you’re sending an email with some instructions, this is a good way of signing off your email.
Again, it’s important to remember to use appropriate honorifics when signing off your email to show respect to the recipient.
In Japan, it is important to respond to emails promptly, preferably within 24 hours.
This is because, in Japanese culture, timely communication and promptness are highly valued characteristics.
If you need more time to respond to an email, sending a holding email acknowledging the receipt of the email and letting the sender know when you expect to respond in more detail is wise.
You should also consider the relationship you have with the sender:
- If the email is from a client, business partner or your superior, responding promptly and respectfully is essential, even if the email sent was not urgent.
- If the email is from a trusted friend or colleague, casual responses may sometimes be appropriate, but you should still aim to respond within a reasonable time.
Either way, it is always better to err on the side of caution and respond promptly and with professionalism when dealing with a Japanese email.
This shows your respect for the sender’s importance and for their time and helps to keep positive professional relationships.
Final Thoughts on Japanese Email Etiquette
Sending an email in a culture different from your own is often fraught with difficulty.
However, with these tips, you should soon be on your way to sending appropriate emails to your Japanese colleagues.
Remember: politeness, respect and timely responses are the most important thing!