A Guide to Business Japanese: Avoid Sounding Rude During a Job Interview or Meeting

Even non-Japanese people proficient in conversational Japanese often struggle with the polite “teineigo” or the honorific “keigo” forms of the language. However, if you wish to work in a Japanese company, you’ll have to master these variations to avoid appearing rude, particularly when talking with a superior or client. That’s why, in this article, we’ll introduce must-know polite and respectful Japanese phrases to use during a job interview or in a Japanese workplace, as well as phrases that can make you appear rude if you get them wrong. Don’t start job hunting in Japan until you’ve got the following down pat!

Useful Phrases for Job-Hunting

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When job-hunting, you’ll often be required to speak on the phone with the company you’re applying for. Because you can’t see the other person’s face, many become nervous in these situations and forget how to speak Japanese properly. That’s why, in this section, we’ll discuss phrases that you can use over the phone while looking for work.

お忙しいところ失礼します – “Oisogashii Tokoro Shitsurei Shimasu” (Sorry to Bother You)

When calling a company, the first thing you’ll say once someone picks up is “oisogashii tokoro shitsurei shimasu,” meaning “sorry to bother you.” It’s a standard phrase showing the other person that you respect their time, making you appear polite. Displaying consideration early on also ensures the rest of the conversation continues smoothly.

Example:

お忙しいところ失礼します。▲▲の件でお電話させていただいた、〇〇(自分の名前)と申します。
Oisogashii tokoro shitsurei shimasu. ___ no ken de odenwa saseteitadaita, [name] to moshimasu.

= “I’m sorry to bother you. My name is [name]. I’m calling about ___.”

恐れ入りますが – “Osoreirimasu Ga” (Excuse Me)

This is a buffer phrase helping to make communication smooth, especially when showing respect to a superior. It’s often used in business settings, usually prefacing a request of some kind. It’s also a clear acknowledgement of the other person’s position.

Example:

恐れ入りますが、もう一度おっしゃっていただいてもよろしいでしょうか?
Osoreirimasu ga, mo ichido osshatteitadaite mo yoroshii desho ka?

= “Excuse me, could you repeat that?”

The Difference Between “Osewa ni Natteorimasu,” “Otsukaresama Desu,” and “Gokurosama Desu”

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When working for a Japanese company, you’ll be constantly interacting with people in and outside the office. During these times, using language that properly acknowledges your and the other person’s positions is extremely important. Below is an explanation of the differences between 3 frequently used Japanese business phrases.

お世話になっております – “Osewa ni Natteorimasu” (I Am Very Grateful)

The “sewa” in “osewa ni natteorimasu” has various meanings, including to care for someone, make an effort, or to intervene on someone’s behalf. The phrase itself expresses gratitude for something that the other person has done for you. It’s usually used with clients and whatnot, but not with family or acquaintances. If you use it with someone you’re not acquainted with, it will sound a little strange. Some people may even take offense to it, so please be careful.

However, if you’re meeting someone for the first time and you expect to be acquainted with them for a while, then you should use “osewa ni natteorimasu.”

お疲れ様です – “Otsukaresama Desu” (Thank You for Your Hard Work)

You will often hear “otsukaresama desu” in a myriad of different scenarios, such as meetings with a superior or client. It conveys appreciation for someone while praising them and can be used with basically anyone, no matter their relation or status. People also use “otsukaresama desu” when running into someone they know at the office, or as an end-of-day greeting.

ご苦労様です – “Gokurosama Desu” (Good Work)

Similarly to the above, “gokurosama desu” is meant to praise someone for their hard work. However, it can only be used when addressing someone of a lower position than the speaker, making it rude to say to a boss or someone outside the company. Think carefully about the status of the other person before using it.

The Difference Between “Ryokai Shimashita,” “Shochi Shimashita,” and “Kashikomarimashita”

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All three of the above phrases express your understanding, agreement, and support of what the other person said. However, although having the same meaning, they are not interchangeable. If you use the wrong phrase at the wrong time, it may come off as rude. Let’s take a look at when it’s appropriate to use “ryokai shimashita,” “shochi shimashita,” and “kashikomarimashita”.

了解しました – “Ryokai Shimashita” (Understood)

When using “ryokai shimashita,” you’re signaling your understanding and agreement with what the other person has said. However, the word “ryokai” itself isn’t particularly respectful, so you should avoid using it in front of bosses, people outside your company, or with clients. It’s a phrase more appropriate for coworkers or juniors.

承知しました – “Shochi Shimashita” (Understood)

“Shochi” is a polite word signaling that you understand the situation and you agree with what’s been said, all while appearing modest. As such, “shochi shimashita” is often used when accepting requests or informing the other person that everything they’ve said has been clear, making it appropriate to use with a client or boss. You can also use it with your coworkers and juniors, making it a stress-free phrase OK to use with just about anyone.

かしこまりました – “Kashikomarimashita” (Understood)

The word “kashikomaru” signals that you’ve respectfully listened to what the other person has said and that you accept their request or instruction. It is used when addressing a client or superior, like when your boss tells you to do something. On the other hand, using it with coworkers or juniors might sound a bit too formal and distant, so it’s best to avoid it during more casual situations.

There’s also the often-used interjection word “naruhodo” (なるほど – “I see”), which should only be used towards your subordinates and juniors, though it’s best to avoid it entirely in a business setting.

The Difference Between “Kisha,” “Onsha,” and “Heisha”

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“Kisha,” “Onsha,” and “Heisha” all mean “company” and often appear in business conversations. However, they each have a different use, making it vital to understand the difference between each word.

貴社 and 御社 – “Kisha” and “Onsha” (Your Company)

Both “kisha” and “onsha” are polite expressions used to refer to another person’s company. “Onsha” is more of a spoken expression used most frequently during business talks or face-to-face interactions, while “kisha” is often used in emails and other forms of written communication. Try not to mix them up!

弊社 – “Heisha” (Our Company)

“Heisha” is a modest expression referring to the company you work for. It signifies that you consider the other party’s company to be above yours. Use it when communicating with other businesses and clients.

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Both “ohisashiburi desu” and “gobusata shiteorimasu” are expressions used to greet a person after you haven’t seen each other for some time. They often appear in both casual and business settings, and most people use them interchangeably. However, there is a nuanced difference between them dictating when and where you should use each one.

お久しぶりです – “Ohisashiburi Desu” (It’s Been a While)

“Ohisashiburi desu” signifies that you haven’t met with someone face-to-face for a while but not that you’ve had no contact at all during this time. So if you were still communicating with someone via email or phone, you can use this expression.

“Ohisashiburi desu” also means that you are happy to see someone, so don’t use it as an apology for lack of contact. Also, while you can use it towards people in higher positions, it may come off as too casual, so it’s best to avoid it. Save it for your coworkers!

Example:

お久しぶりです。〇〇の件ではお世話になりました。
Ohisashiburi desu. ___ no ken dewa osewa ni narimashita.

= “It’s been a while. Thank you for your help with ___.”

ご無沙汰しております – “Gobusata Shiteorimasu” (Apologies For Not Staying in Touch)

The “sata” in “gobusata” means “message, information, correspondence,” while “Go” is an honorific prefix and “bu” signifies negation, making the word “gobusata” literally mean “a lack of communication.” Therefore, “gobusata shiteorimasu” is used when you haven’t seen someone for a while and haven’t been communicating via email or phone. The expression is essentially an apology for not staying in touch. And since it’s also a sign of respect, it’s the perfect expression to use towards your superiors or in a business setting.

Example:

ご無沙汰してしまい、申し訳ありません。
Gobusata shiteshimai, moshiwake arimasen.

= “My apologies for not staying in touch.”

大変長らくご無沙汰しております。
Taihen nagaraku gobusata shiteorimasu.

= “It’s been far too long.”

Phrases to Use When Apologizing

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There will undoubtedly be many times when you have to apologize to someone in the workplace. While the most common apology phrase in Japanese is “gomen nasai,” it’s generally only used when seeking forgiveness from the other person. Apologizing with “gomen nasai” shows that you expect forgiveness, which can be seen as a faux pas in the Japanese business scene. Instead, try the following two phrases.

すみません – “Sumimasen” (I’m sorry)

“Sumimasen” is used to signify that the other person hasn’t been shown the proper respect by you. It originates from the verb “sumu,” meaning “to cease” or “to stop,” making its negative form “sumimasen” imply that your apology does not end with just your words. It expresses a strong desire to set things right. Despite this, in a business setting, it’s primarily used as a quick apology for little mistakes that may have inconvenienced the other party.

Example:

ご迷惑をお掛けしてすみません。
Gomeiwaku wo okake shite sumimasen.

= “I’m sorry for inconveniencing you.”

申し訳ありません – “Moshiwake Arimasen”

“Moshiwake arimasen” is used when you’ve done something wrong and don’t have anything to defend your actions with. In a business setting, it’s both the most common and the most serious form of apology. It signifies that you made a terrible mistake, that you are sorry from the bottom of your heart, and that there is no excuse for what happened. While this may sound a little dramatic, it’s used with surprising frequency in Japan.

Example:

お待たせしてしまい、大変申し訳ありません。
Omatase shiteshimai, taihen moshiwake arimasen.

= “My deepest apologies for making you wait.”

When to Use “Yoroshiku Onegai Itashimasu”?

“Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu” (よろしくお願いいたします) is a phrase commonly used in business settings, everyday life, and numerous other situations. The “yoroshiku” part signifies that you are seeking some kind of accommodation or compromise from the other party, while the rest is a polite way of saying “please.” It’s often used as a concluding phrase in both writing and conversation, such as when ending a meeting or at the end of a phone call.

Sometimes in emails and other forms of written correspondence, you will see the phrase written as “宜しくお願い致します.” However, the “宜” part of “宜しく” originally only had one reading, “gi,” which doesn’t have any meaning of a greeting like “よろしく.” Also, the “itashimasu” part should be written as “いたします” instead of “致します,” of which the former is more respectful. Therefore, the proper way to write the phrase is “よろしくお願いいたします.”

Speak Business Japanese Like a Pro!

All the phrases discussed in this article are constantly used at Japanese companies. While some have very similar meanings, it’s important to know the correct nuance and appropriate time to use each, so study up, leave a fantastic impression, and advance your career in Japan!

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By the way, if you're looking for a job or career change and you're already in Japan, we now have a jobs site called tsunagu Local Jobs! On top of having exclusive job listings that you won't find anywhere else, we've vetted all the listings to ensure that they're foreigner-friendly and high quality. If you register for an account on the site, you can even make use of our agent service where our international staff will help you find the perfect job in Japan, so check it out today!

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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