Part of succeeding in the Japanese business world is learning how to speak in a polite and professional manner, but the Japanese language doesn’t make that easy. With so many different ways to say the same thing, it can be difficult to figure out what to say and when! Below are 12 common Japanese business phrases that are easy to get wrong, so familiarize yourself with them!
ご苦労さまです (Gokurosama Desu / Good Work)
This expression is only used when addressing one’s subordinates. To thank your coworkers or bosses for their hard work, use “Otsukaresama desu” (お疲れさまです) instead.
了解しました (Ryokai Shimashita / Understood)
This expression is in fact not honorific at all because “ryokai” carries with it a hint of “recognition” or “consent,” making it inappropriate to use towards one’s seniors. A lot of people actually find it jarring to hear “Ryokai shimashita!” or “Ryokai desu!” from their subordinates. “Shochi shimashita” (承知しました) or “Kashikomarimashita” (かしこまりました) would be better options.
大変参考になりました (Taihen Sanko ni Narimashita / You’ve Been Very Helpful)
Using “sanko” makes you sound as if you were talking to a subordinate, so if you’re addressing your superior or some other higher-up, you should use “Taihen benkyou ni narimashita” (大変勉強になりました / I learned a lot from you) when thanking them for their guidance or help.
すいません (Suimasen / Sorry)
“Suimasen” or “sumimasen” (すみません) is too casual to be used in the presence of a higher-up, so it’s best to avoid it altogether in a business setting. As the word doubles as “thank you” and “sorry” in Japanese, it is better to replace it with the more formal “Arigato gozaimasu” (ありがとうございます) for expressing thanks, and “Moshiwake gozaimasen” (申し訳ございません) for apologies.
私には役不足です (Watashi ni wa Yakubusoku Desu / This Is Beneath Me)
If you use this phrase when given an assignment or when apologizing for botching a task, you’re certain to infuriate your superior since the phrase essentially means “This job is too simple for someone of my caliber.” If, however, you are legitimately worried that you are not well suited for a job, say “Watashi de wa chikarabusoku kamoshiremasen ga, ganbarimasu.” (私で力不足かもしれませんが、頑張ります) When apologizing for a poor performance, use “Watashi no chikarabusoku de moshiwake arimasen.” (私の力不足で申し訳ありません)
わが社 (Wagasha / Our Company)
There are numerous ways to say “our company” in Japanese. “Wagasha” is used among colleagues within the same company, and would sound arrogant in any other context. It is customary to use “heisha” (弊社) or “tosha” (当社) to show humility when speaking to clients and other people from outside your workplace.
なるほど (Naruhodo / Is That So?)
This is the shortened form of “Naruhodo, sou desu ne,” which is used to comment on or acknowledge what another person has said, but only when addressing someone below you in the company hierarchy. The honorific equivalent of it would be “Ossharutoori desu” (仰る通りです / acknowledgement) or “Mattaku shirimasen deshita” (全く知りませんでした / signifying that you’ve received new information).
おわかりいただけたでしょうか (Owakari Itadaketa Deshouka / Did You Understand All That?)
This is a grammatically correct sentence, though with an air of authority. To tone it down a bit, use “Gorikai itadaketa deshouka” (ご理解いただけたでしょうか), “Koko made de nanika goshitsumon wa arimasuka” (ここまでで何かご質問はありますか) or “Gofumei na ten wa gozaimasenka” (ご不明な点はございませんか) when confirming if everyone has understood what you just said or when fielding questions.
お座りください (Osuwari Kudasai / Please Sit)
This is technically an honorific, but in practice it sounds more like a command you give to a dog. You should also avoid “Suwatte kudasai” (座ってください) in the office when asking someone to sit down. Instead, use “Okake kudasai.” (おかけください)
どちら様でしょうか、どなた様でしょうか (Dochirasama Deshouka or Donatasama Deshouka / Who Are You?)
The term “sama” might sound respectful, but both questions are asking “Who are you?” too directly, which could come off as rude to some people. When clients come to visit your company, greeting them with “Dochirasama deshouka” could be interpreted as a less-than-friendly welcome. To sound more hospitable, try going with “Goraisha itadaki arigato gozaimasu, onamae wo ukagattemo yoroshii deshouka” (御来社いただきありがとうございます。お名前を伺ってもよろしいでしょうか) or “Onamae wo okikase itadakemasu deshouka” (お名前をお聞かせいただけますでしょうか), which roughly mean “Welcome. May I have your name please?”
どうしますか (Dou Shimasuka / What Should We Do?)
“Dou shimasuka” or “Dou suru” (どうする) are not honorifics, so it’s not a good idea to use those phrases in front of one’s superiors. What you’re looking for is “ikaga itashimasuka” (いかがいたしますか) when asking a higher-up for directions or their opinions.
お客様をお連れしました (Okyakusama wo Otsure Shimashita / I’ve Brought Our Client with Me)
As you guide a client to your superior, keep in mind that the client is at a higher position than your boss. “Otsure shimashita” (お連れしました) is respectful towards your superior but not the client, so it should be avoided in this situation. The proper honorific expression would be “Okyakusama wo goannai itashimashita” (お客様をご案内いたしました) or “Omie ni narimashita.” (お見えになりました)
Mastering polite Japanese and Japanese business phrases can be difficult, so start with the common mistakes, learn how to avoid them, and you’ll be speaking fluent business Japanese in no time!
Thumbnail credit: PIXTA
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you’d really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.