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7 Etiquette Rules for Writing Emails in Japanese

The last 10 years saw significant increase in use of texting platforms such as WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and LINE. People started to use them not only for private matters but also for business purposes.

However, in a traditional society like Japan, emails are still by far the most common and preferred way of communication when it comes to business.

Whether you are writing to your Japanese teacher, inquiring with stores or services, applying for a job or communicating with your clients, it is advisable to know these 7 etiquette rules for Japanese email writing.

7 Japanese Email Etiquette Rules

Choose the Most Polite Way Possible

In every language, people use different phrases and tones depending on whether it is written or spoken. Especially in Japanese, this gap is so noticeable that it almost feels like two different languages.

In written communication, it is safer to choose the most polite way possible. No one would feel offended when they receive emails that sound more polite than what they would normally expect.

  Click here for 50+ sample phrases for Japanese emails.

Always Use “Sama” Instead of “San”

さん is the most common honorific title to put after our names. In verbal communication, it can be used for your immediate boss, your colleagues, new employees or anyone you just met. However in emails, using さん is not quite accepted unless you are emailing your colleagues or bosses who you are very close to.

You can never go wrong using さま, whether it be a CEO of a company or the person in charge of hiring. In emails, we put さま right after their family name or full name.

  • 田中太郎様たなかたろうさま
  • 田中様たなかさま
  Click here to read more about how to address people in Japanese emails.

Address Teachers as “Sensei”

I just mentioned that さま is the safest title to use for anyone. However, teachers and professors prefer to be addressed with their job title, i.e., 先生せんせい or 教授きょうじゅ.

  • 田中太郎先生たなかたろうせんせい
  • 田中太郎教授たなかたろうきょうじゅ
  • 田中先生たなかせんせい
  • 田中教授たなかきょうじゅ

Do Not Refer to Your Boss with a Title

I know this sounds complicated, but it is actually very simple. Let’s say you are writing to your client or someone outside of your company. You are trying to schedule a meeting and say something like “my boss and I will be there next week.” In this case, do not put any title after your boss’s name. This applies to anyone in your company.

correct
部長ぶちょう田中たなかわたしうかがいます。

incorrect
田中部長たなかぶちょうわたしうかがいます。
田中たなかさんとわたしうかがいます。

* うかがいます = a humble way to say “visiting”

Japanese people are used to the culture of talking to our boss with Keigo (= honorific language), so this etiquette rule sometimes feels weird even to us. However, let’s keep in mind that putting any title after your boss’s name when talking to your clients is considered unprofessional.

Do Not Take a Guess on Their Name’s Kanji

Like “Steven” and “Stephen” are usually read in the same way, Japanese names can also have a different Kanji but the same pronunciation.

For example, “Ito” is one of the most common family names in Japan. It can be written as 伊藤いとう, 伊東いとう or something else. When it comes to given names, there can be unlimited variation of how they are written.

When you are not sure which Kanji character is used for the recipient’s name, do not take a guess. No one likes to be addressed with a wrong name.

Instead, you can use Katakana.

  • タナカさま
  • イトウさま

Reply in 24 Hours

According to a survey conducted by MyNavi Corporation, one of the biggest recruiting companies in Japan, 73% of Japanese people expect replies within 24 hours.

If you do not have the answer yet, you can let them know that you have received the email and add a line like this:

  • 来週らいしゅう金曜日きんようびまでに回答かいとうさせていただきます。
    Please let me respond to you by next Friday.

Avoid Using Texting Platforms

I guess this is not an “email etiquette”, but it is something important to know.

Living in Canada, I noticed that a lot of people use texting services such as WhatsApp or SMS to reach people for business. However in Japan, it is still considered somewhat rude to use texting services for business. Unless agreed by both parties, let’s stick to emails.

As for making phone calls, it is also better to keep it minimum except when it is urgent.

Let’s Start Writing Emails in Japanese!

Though I might have scared you with all the strict etiquette rules for writing Japanese emails, the most important thing is to deliver your message correctly and smoothly. We do feel glad and thankful to receive emails in our native tongue, even if they are not written perfectly.

However, writing emails in a professional manner can definitely lead to better communication and result in successful business.

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7 Etiquette Rules for Writing Emails in Japanese

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