San, Sama, Sensei – How to Address People in Japanese Emails

San, Chan, Kun, Sama… – Yes, there are many ways to address people in Japanese and it can be quite confusing which title to use on what occasions.

When it comes to writing emails, a lot of other questions may arise.

  • Can I use “San” in emails?
  • How should I address my teacher?
  • What if I don’t know the name of the person in charge?

This article gives you the ultimate guide on how to address people or companies in Japanese emails.

Always Use “Sama” Instead of “San”

First thing first, さん is not quite accepted in emails – it is always safer to use  さま.

さま is normally put after a full name or a last name. Though calling someone with their first name followed by さま is common in verbal communication, we almost never address people with their first name in written communication.

correct
田中太郎様たなかたろうさま
田中様たなかさま

incorrect
太郎様たろうさま

How to Address People in Japanese Emails

The followings are the variations of how to address people to start your email.

The Most Basic Format

The most basic format will look like this:

  • トウキョウ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 営業部えいぎょうぶ 部長ぶちょう 田中太郎様たなかたろうさま
    Company + Department + Job Title + Name

If you are not sure which department the recipient belongs to or what job title he/she holds, you can omit those information.

To People Within Your Company

If you are writing internally, you can put their job title after their name instead of さま.

If you are emailing someone outside of your company, this exception does not apply – you should stick to the basic format.

  • 営業部えいぎょうぶ 田中部長
    たなかぶちょう

    (internal)
  • 営業部えいぎょうぶ 部長ぶちょう 田中太郎様たなかたろうさま
    (internal/external)

To Teacher/Professor

I mentioned that さま is the best choice to address anyone, but there is one exception. Whoever people call 先生せんせい(teacher)or 教授きょうじゅ(professor)prefer to be addressed the same way in writings. This includes teachers, professors, doctors and lawyers.

  • オオサカ日本語学校にほんごがっこう 田中太郎たなかたろう先生せんせい
  • オオサカ大学だいがく 田中太郎たなかたろう教授きょうじゅ

To Multiple Recipients

There may be times when you are addressing multiple people. All you need to remember here is to write the name of whoever has a higher ranking first.

  • トウキョウ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 営業部えいぎょうぶ
    部長ぶちょう 田中太郎様たなかたろうさま
    課長かちょう 山田花子様やまだはなこさま

*部長ぶちょう=General Manager
*課長かちょう=Section Chief

To Whom It May Concern

Probably not many people write “To whom it may concern” in English anymore.

Anyways, if you don’t know the name of the person in charge, you can address him/her as 担当者様たんとうしゃさま, which literally means “the person in charge”.

  • トウキョウ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 営業部えいぎょうぶ 担当者様たんとうしゃさま
  • トウキョウ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 採用さいよう担当者様たんとうしゃさま

* 採用=Hiring

To Company/Organization

When you are not writing to a specific person but rather addressing the whole company, school or department, you can put 御中おんちゅう instead of さま.

  • トウキョウ株式会社御中かぶしきがいしゃおんちゅう
  • トウキョウ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 営業部御中えいぎょうぶおんちゅう
  • オオサカ日本語学校御中にほんごがっこうおんちゅう

Attention to Each and All

Let’s say you have multiple recipients – maybe not two or three, but more than five. You cannot specify everyone’s name but still want every one of them to pay attention. In this scenario, we use 各位かくい instead of さま. While other titles come after the name of the person or company, 各位かくい can be used independently.

  • トウキョウ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 営業部えいぎょうぶ 担当者各位たんとうしゃかくい
  • トウキョウ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 営業部えいぎょうぶ 各位かくい

Let’s not be redundant.

さま,  御中おんちゅう and 各位かくい are all honorific title but have different roles.

  • さま = for people’s name
  • 御中おんちゅう = for a company’s name
  • 各位かくい = for multiple, anonymous recipients

Thus they can never be used together like this:

incorrect
オオサカ日本語学校御中にほんごがっこうおんちゅうさま
担当者各位たんとうしゃかくいさま

Q&A

Q: Should I address people with their full name or last name?

A: When you are writing to someone for the first time, try to address them with their full name. From the second exchange onwards, we normally switch to last names.

Q: How about when I mention their name in the main message?

A: You can call them with their last name followed by the appropriate title.

Q: Is there anything to keep in mind when using Cc?

A: We specify each recipient’s name when we use Cc.

  • オオサカ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 田中様たなかさま
    Cc:山田様やまださま
  • オオサカ株式会社かぶしきがいしゃ 田中様たなかさま
    Cc:弊社へいしゃ 佐藤さとう

*弊社へいしゃ=humble way to say “my company”

Q: How about when I use Bcc?

When we use Bcc, we add a line like this to be polite:

  • このメールはbccで一斉いっせいにおおくりしています。
    This email is sent using Bcc.

Let’s Start Writing Emails in Japanese!

As an English learner, I understand the struggles of writing emails in a foreign language. No one likes to be misunderstood or even offend others against our intention.

We always feel thankful when we receive emails in Japanese and we do not expect perfectly written emails.

However, writing professional emails that follow the etiquette rules will result in smooth communication – which means more opportunities or more business!

If you have any questions or thoughts about this subject, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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San, Sama, Sensei – How to Address People in Japanese Emails

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