Practical Phrases That Will Help You Navigate the Japanese Business World

One thing many people quickly learn after landing their first job is that performance alone can only get you so far. You also need good communication skills to advance your career. This is especially true in Japan where communication is a complex art form full of hidden pitfalls and conventions, like rarely giving straight answers to simple questions and requests, so you always have to be careful with your word choice. In this article, we’ll introduce several Japanese phrases and expressions that will definitely help you succeed at your job in Japan.

The Japanese Way of Saying No

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When talking to a client in Japan, you have to observe their reactions and figure out whether their words can be taken at face value or not. For example, let’s say you propose something to a client and they come back with a “Kentou shimasu” (検討します / We’ll consider it). If you’re new to Japanese corporate speech, this answer might give you hope that things are going your way. But in many cases, it’s actually the opposite since the phrase is often used in Japan to politely say no without actually saying “no.”

This is an unspoken understanding amongst Japanese people. Other responses that tend to mean “no” are “Mou ichido kangaemasu” (もう一度考えます / We’ll give it another thought) and “Mochikaette kentou shimasu” (持ち帰って検討します / We’ll sleep on it). Similarly, phrases like “Zensho shimasu” (善処します / We’ll take the appropriate steps) are often just an excuse to buy time, not a promise to actually do anything.

When it’s your turn to politely turn someone down, you can discourage them from pursuing a matter further by wrapping up the conversation with a “Hitsuyou na baai wa kochira kara renraku suru” (必要な場合はこちらから連絡する / We’ll contact you).

Low-Key Complaints About Colleagues’ Performances

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Beating around the bush also frequently happens between colleagues. Japanese people are experts in giving sarcastic remarks behind a friendly façade. They will feign concern over your wellbeing with a “Taihen sou na shigoto desu yo ne” (大変そうな仕事ですよね / Looks like tough work), describe you as “Jikkuri yaru taipu nan desu ne” (じっくりやるタイプなんですね / The slow and meticulous type), or pretend to offer compliments like “Majime desu yo ne” (真面目ですよね / You’re a serious worker), but they all hint at the same thing – you’re underperforming!

In rare instances, your colleagues might be genuinely complimenting you, but most of the time those phrases mean that they are subtly complaining about your efficiency. Other examples include “Ooraka nan desu ne” (おおらかなんですね / You’re easygoing) to imply that you’re careless, and “Kicchiri shitemasu yo ne” (きっちりしてますよね / You have principles), which means you’re too rigid. You have to pay extra attention during conversations to pick up the real meaning behind your coworkers’ words.

Bosses, Too, Must Be Aware

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The increasing number of people subtly suggesting dissatisfaction towards their superiors has become a hot topic in Japan in recent years. As the workplace culture changes and the younger generation embraces individuality, people become more likely to express opinions about their superiors, albeit indirectly.

If you want in on that, do things like begin your reports to the boss with “Senjitsu no goshiteki wo fumaete…” (先日のご指摘を踏まえて / Following your instructions) to remind them you’re merely doing what you were told, or make “Hayaku seichou shitai desu!” (早く成長したいです!/ I want to improve myself!) your pet phrase to hint that you’re looking for other job offers.

In addition, if your superior looks like they’re about to talk for a long time, be smart and suggest “Kanchigai ga aru to ikenai no de, meeru de onegai dekimasu deshou ka” (勘違いがあるといけないので、メールでお願いできますでしょうか。/ Could we use email instead to avoid any misunderstandings?) Not only can this save time, it will also create written documentation that can be used to settle future arguments. Nevertheless, if your boss is the type who expects you to take notes while they speak, this strategy probably won’t work.

How to Avoid Trouble With Colleagues

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If you’re having trouble with a coworker like them trying to offload their duties onto you, the best response would be to smile confidently and say “Watashi ga yatte iin desu ka?” (私がやっていいんですか?/ Is it alright to let me do this?), which translates into “Isn’t this your job? You should handle it yourself.” Another way to excuse yourself would be “Ima te ga ippai de hikiukeru no ni chotto muzukashii, gomennasai, mata koe wo kakete kudasai” (今手がいっぱいで引き受けるのにちょっと難しい、ごめんなさい。また声をかけてください / I’m sorry but I’ve got my hands full right now. Let me know how I can help in the future).


In order to avoid making enemies in the workplace, figuring out what others are really saying and choosing your words wisely are both of vital importance. So, study our guide carefully because it might come in handy sooner than you think!

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

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