Japanese Language Blog

The Quick Start Guide to Business Japanese Posted by on Apr 13, 2016 in Culture, Grammar

Japanese learners, listen up! I know we’re all super busy and have many commitments as working professionals. But if you’re about to do business with Japanese people, you might want to stop, take a deep breath and read this article.


Why Do Business with Japan?

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, after the United States and China. It’s roughly half the size of Texas but has a GDP around $4 trillion. (Source)

What do you find in Japan? Innovation centers, highly attractive business climates and safe living environments.

It enjoys a stellar reputation among Western and Asian companies, which are attracted by its R&D capabilities, personnel and well-developed laws, such as intellectual property rights.

Many companies are also attracted to Japan because of its developed consumer base. The huge market is a trendsetter among regional economies and is used by many businesses as a test location.

And its mobile communications market is one of the most advanced in the world.

Cultural Factors Can Make Doing Business in Japan Difficult

First, Japanese is the only official language. English is spoken by growing numbers, but many Japanese are sometimes too polite to let you know when they’re struggling with another language.

Second, relationships drive business in Japan. Face and hierarchy are key. It’s important to show the right level of respect and to be polite and diplomatic at all times.

Old Japanese rules of business engagement are still the norm in Japanese organizations. Relationships in Japan are seldom defined by legal contracts alone.

Long-term relationships are more valued than any specific business opportunity you may be keen to push through.

And something a bit challenging for westerners: patience is necessary when handling business relations as things take time.

The Ability to Remain Calm and Hide Any Frustrations is Essential

If you try to do things your own way and assume that the Japanese will “understand where I’m coming from,” you’ll get nasty surprises.

You need to be aware that your business partners in Japan won’t tell you everything they know, think or feel.

In your own country, you might be able to guess what your business partner thinks and feels, while in Japan this will be more difficult.

I heard this story about two Western executives who returned from negotiations with Japanese partners, celebrating success. Two days later, the business relationship broke up.

The Western view and the Japanese view of the same event or partnership can dramatically differ, and one or both sides might not even know about this difference.

For a look at how to communicate with Japanese people in business, read this excellent report prepared by JETRO.

Use Keigo (Honorific Language) to Show the Right Level of Respect

Japan has precise and sophisticated hierarchical systems, complete with a special language of politeness called honorific language, keigo (けいご, 敬語) in Japanese.

Keigo speech patterns are determined by the relative status/rank of the speaker, the listener and the persons spoken about. And it’s often used in business settings.

In contrast, American English is built on the values of fairness and social equality. It has no specific speech patterns for communicating between hierarchical levels.

So it’s essential for executives to learn the correct Japanese expressions to use in business settings. The next section is a quick start guide to Japanese phrases used to start and end a business meeting.

Japanese Phrases to Start and End a Business Meeting

To Start a Meeting

  1. … to mōshimasu

Kanji: …と申します

Hiragana: …ともうします

This literally means “I’m called…” A closer translation would be “My name is ….” This way of introducing yourself is honorific and highly formal.

It’s used when introducing oneself in the business context and can be used to impress when attending meetings, especially as a foreigner.

  1. dochira kara irasshaimashita ka?

Hiragana: どちらからいらっしゃいましたか 

This phrase is used to ask “Where did you come from?” In Japan, people usually arrive 10 minutes before a meeting starts to build the relationship and make small talk.

If it’s obvious that one or both parties traveled for the meeting, you can ask or may be asked this question.

Note that this is a very respectful form to talk to someone of higher status than you. In other words, you wouldn’t use this phrase when speaking to a friend or family member.

  1. itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu

Kanji: いつもお世話になっております

Hirgana: いつもおせわになっております

This is an important and useful business greeting which means:

  • ”Thank you for your patronage,”
  • “Thank you for your support,” or
  • “Thank you for your work.”

This phrase can also be used at the beginning of emails to external companies. It can be used both from subordinate to superior and vice versa.

To End a Meeting

  1. watashi ga kaita repoto wo mite itadakemasuka?

Kanji: 私が書いたレポートを見ていただけますか

Hiragana: わたしがかいたレポートをみていただけますか

This phrase means “Will I be able to receive the favor of getting my report looked at?”

If you prepared a report for the meeting and want the other party to review it as the next step, you can utter this phrase. It’s an extremely polite way to request something from another party.

  1. shitsurei itashimasu

Kanji: 失礼致します

Hiragana: しつれいいたします

This phrase literally means “I’m doing a discourtesy.” A closer translation would be “Excuse me.”

If you need to step out of the meeting room to answer the call of nature, you can use this phrase to politely excuse yourself.

Do note that answering mobile phones is frowned upon in business meetings in Japan and even this phrase won’t rescue you in a high-level meeting.

  1. yoroshiku onegai itashimasu

Kanji: よろしくお願いいたします

Hiragana: よろしくおねがいいたします

This oft-heard phrase means “I’m looking forward to working with you” or “Thanks in advance for your cooperation.”

It’s usually accompanied by a deep and heartfelt bow, and is the “secret password” of the Japanese language which opens every door.

Basically, this phrase is used whenever you’re asking someone to do something for you.

In this case, it can be used to seal an important business deal which might result in big profits for both parties in the near future.

When you use this phrase, you’re thanking the other person for things they haven’t done yet. It seals a deal or solidifies a relationship.

You’ll hear it at the end of business meetings after both parties have agreed to their respective responsibilities. It means something like “I’m indebted to you.”

It’s also used when first meeting someone. You’re opening up a relationship with the person and thanking them in advance for all that they’ll do for you in the future.

You can’t go wrong with this expression. If you only remember one phrase from this article, make it this one.


You want to do business with Japan, but cultural factors (language and relationships) can make doing business in Japan difficult.

Colloquial Japanese differs greatly from business Japanese. For the busy professional, mastering keigo (honorific language) is a quick way to show the right level of respect and gain acceptance in Japan.

In this article, you learned six Japanese phrases to start and end a business meeting. Memorize them and impress your Japanese colleagues!

Author Bio

Karen’s love affair with the Japanese language started from the song “Say Yes” by Chage & Aska. She currently runs a Japanese learning website to marry her love of Japanese and flash games. You can learn and listen to other useful Japanese phrases at her website, JapaneseUp.

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