Business meeting in an office

If you decide to move to Japan or start a business there, it is important to know the key Japanese phases in the office. Japan’s culture and language are interlinked, so this can also help you with your culture agility.  Learning some key Japanese phases can help you create a good impression and foster a conversation. With the knowledge of these basic phrases and words, interacting with your Japanese colleagues and partners can be a lot smoother and easier.

In this guide, we provide words and phrases in the following order: hieroglyphic writing, hiragana alphabetic writing, Hepburn romanization, translation. For example,

言葉  ことば  kotoba  word

Self Introduction

初めまして。私の名前は(your name)です。よろしくお願いします。

はじめまして。わたしのなまえは(your name)です。よろしくおねがいします。

Hajimemashite literally means “let me start” but it is used as English phrase “nice to meet you” or “please let me introduce myself”. This is usually followed by a bow.

Wastashi no namae wa (your name) desu. My name is (your name).

Yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu. This is a closing phrase for many conversations and can meany many different sings with the umbrella notion of asking somebody to do something for you. When used for self-introduction it Can loosely be translated as “please treat me kindly”.

On the first day of work, you will be expected to meet everyone and introduce yourself to every person. This is the most basic type of self-introduction that is rather formal and polite, thus it can be used to people of different positions when you meet them for the first time.

Of course, you can add where you are from or what has brought you to Japan. Just remember that everyone has work to do and it is good to keep self-introduction simple and short.

Everyday Phrases

A lot of daily conversations are based on set phrases that do not change regardless of a person you are talking to. These are so-called language formulas, many of which are used in pairs. Once learned they can be applied in a wide variety of situations, both in and out of the office.

Greetings

It is polite to greet your coworkers every day when you see them for the first time. The most common phrase to do is:

お早うございます。 おはようございます。 Ohaiyo gozaimasu.

it means “good morning”. This phase is a classic Japanese greeting expression and usually one of the first things you learn in Japanese class. Despite its direct translation, lately, it became common to use this phrase at any point of the day and even in the evening sometimes. As soon as you enter the office be sure to greet those who came in before you and everybody that will come later than you. Your coworkers typically say it back in unison.

Asking for Favours

よろしくお願いします。 よろしくおねがいします。Yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu.

This phrase can mean many things as we have already discussed above. You can use it as a closing phrase for a self-introduction speech or as a way to ask somebody to do you a favor. In this case, the phase will mean both “Yes, please do it for me” and “I will appreciate it if you do so”. For example, if your colleague asks whether you need help with something, you can always say: “Hai, yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu”. 

Leaving the Office and Returning Back

Here are three situations in which you can use paired phrases:

  1. You or somebody else is leaving the office for a while.
  2. You or somebody else came back after being absent for a while.
  3. You or somebody else is leaving the office in the evening.

Let’s take a closer look at the correct use of every pair.

1. You or somebody else is leaving

When someone has to leave the office for a while, this person should say as they leave:

行ってきます。 いってきます。 Ittekimasu.

Literary it means “I’m going, but I will be back”. This phase is commonly used, for example, if you are out for lunch (not in the office) or visiting a business partner but will be heading back soon. It is polite to announce that you are leaving for a while so that your coworkers are aware that for a while you will not be available. Of course, this phase can be used at home and in other contexts as well.

When you hear somebody saying Ittekimasu, the reply is:

行ってらっしゃい。 いってらっしゃい。 Itterasshai.

It means “please go and return safely”. This is said back by your coworkers in unison as they show that they are aware that somebody is leaving and wish this person a safe trip.

2. You or somebody else came back after being absent for a while

When entering the office after a short absence it is common to say:

ただいま。 Tadaima.

Literary it translates into “right now” or “I have just”, which means “I have just returned”, “I came back right now”. This phrase informs the others that you are available in the office again. Other people in the office will answer this phrase with:

お帰りなさい。 おかえりなさい。 O-kaeri-nasai.

Sometimes just o-kaeri, a more friendly way to say it, means “welcome back”. As well as the in previous phrase pair, the response usually comes in unison from all the people present who in such way show that they have noticed you returning back.

3. You or somebody else is leaving the office in the evening

It is common in Japan that people do extra hours in the office after the official working day has ended. Usually, people are reluctant to leave first when their colleagues are still working. Yet, when it is absolutely necessary to leave, one can say:

お先に失礼します。 おさきにしつれいします。 O-saki-ni shitsurei shimasu.

Ths phrase means “I am being rude by leaving first”, “It is rude of me to leave before you”, or “I apologize for leaving earlier than you”. As with the other phases, one need to announce this to all the coworkers and let them know that you are now heading elsewhere until the next working day.

Others will say in return:

お疲れ様でした。おつかれさまでした。O-tsukare-sama deshita.

It means “Thank you for your hard work” and “You must be tired” at once. This is an extremely useful phrase that can also be used outside the office when you have received a favor from other people as an alternative for arigatou gozaimasu. For example, your coworker has done some paperwork for you and as you receive the papers it’s an appropriate situation to use o-tsukare-sama deshita.

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Company structure

Japan has a complex business hierarchy when it comes to companies. It allows everyone to have particularly defining roles within the organization and there is an emphasis on respect, especially to people older and higher up in the company.

Here is a basic layout of how it all works:

会長  かいちょう Kaichou Chairman

社長 しゃちょう Shachou President

副社長 ふくしゃちょう Fukushachou  Vice President

部長 ぶちょう Buchou Department manager

課長 かちょう Kachou Section Manager

同僚 どうりょう Douryou Colleague

部下 ぶか Buka Subordinate

It is important that everyone behaves in his or her role within the company properly. Usually, it means going along with the group as Japan emphasizes harmony.

Around the Office Terms in Japanese

会議  かいぎ  Kaigi  Meeting

面接    めんせつ    Mensetsu    Interview

通勤ラッシュ   つうきんラッシュ   Tsukinrasshu   Commuting Rush Hour

会社   かいしゃ   Kaisha   Office/company

判子・印鑑   はんこ・いんかん   Hanko・Inkan   Japanese seal

It is important to have Inkan and/or Hanko if you work in Japan. Every Japanese person has at least one or two hanko, but they are used more seldom than before. As a foreigner, you will need this for receiving packages or signing important documents.

名刺   めいし    Meishi    Business card

Everyone in the Japanese business world seems to have business cards. They are exchanged as a way to network and people even a special case for these cards.

ファクス   Fakusu  Fax

As crazy as it seems, fax machines are still in active daily use in Japan.

プリンター   Purintaa    Printer

コピー機   コピーき   Kopiiki   Copying machine

電話   でんわ   Denwa   Telephone

書類   しょるい   Shorui    Document(s)

保険   ほけん   Hoken   Insurance

上司   じょうし   Jyoushi   Superior

部下   ぶか   Buka   Subordinate

Summary

Words and phrases used in the office in Japan are rather standard. Once you have learned them, these phrases can be used in a wide variety of situations, both in and out of the office. Now you know some basic Japanese terms and phrases, you can ace your first day at work.

Japanese Office Phrases FAQ

What if I need to leave early from work? Do I announce it?

Yes, it would be the polite thing to do to tell your co-workers you are leaving by saying o-saki-ni setsurei shimasu.

Will my coworkers speak English?

Many Japanese people do not speak English well and many more are simply shy. However, some do. Whatever the reason, it is important to meet them halfway by learning some basic phrases in Japanese.

Do I need to use suffix "san" at workplace?

When you are addressing someone of your colleagues who are of the same rank, it is usual to add polite suffix san after their family name. However, it is quite often that people higher in rank are addressed by their position or title in the company. For example, shachou or kachou. In such case, there is no need to add anything after their title.

How can I approach someone when I want to talk to them?

You can always start a conversation by saying Sumimasen to draw someone’s attention. Although technically it is an apology, this phrase can also be used as English “I am sorry, but…”

What does "daijoubu" mean?

Ddaijoubu has a lot of meaning and can be applied in many different situations, but generally, it is used for an approval or consolation. It can mean “that’s fine”, “it will do”, “everything is fine”. It is also used in a phrase “Daijoubu desu ka?” – “Is everything OK?”, “Are you OK?”