Composing Business Letters in Japanese



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In celebration of the release of our Living Language Business Japanese language course, we’re posting some business Japanese tips this week. Keep checking the blog for more tips.

One of the most important aspects of business communication is being able to compose the perfect business letter.

To begin your letter in Japanese, you will begin by the equivalent of sir/dear, and then follow it with what is called a “head word.” A head word follows the addressee’s name but precedes the body of the letter. An example of a head word is 拝啓 (haikei).

Here are some other head words:

謹啓(kinkei), 拝呈(haitei)

You may also use the head word 前略 (zenryaku) if you wish to skip a seasonal greeting. A seasonal greeting should follow other head words. The seasonal greeting can be the trickiest part of writing Japanese letters. Basically, you say something poetic to describe the time of the month/year.  You can find many helper sites on the web for writing seasonal greetings, where they give you sample greeting phrases to write in the beginning of April, in the middle of April, at the end of April, etc.

Here’s an example of late April greeting:

風が初夏の香りを運んでくるのを感じる季節となりましたが、御社におかれましてはますますご隆盛のこととお慶び申し上げます。

Kaze ga shoka no kaori o hakonde kuruno o kanjiru kisetsu to narimashita ga, onsha ni okaremashite wa masumasu goryuusei no kototo oyorokobi moushiagemasu.

It is the season when we smell the scent of early summer breeze and I trust that your company is thriving more than ever.

There is one cheat phrase which works like a joker card. (i.e. works with every season):

時下ますますご清栄のことと存じます。

Jika masumasu goseiei no koto to zonjimasu.

In the current season, I trust that your company is thriving more than ever.

Words like “sir” and “madam” 各位 (kakui) or Doctor/Dr./Professor 先生 (sensei) are written independently in Japanese; you would never write “Dear Sirs,” but you can use the addressee’s name with “dear”: XX様 (XXsama).

To close your letter, you will use what is called a “closing word” in Japanese, and similar to head words, closing words correspond to English salutations.  The most common and versatile closing word is 敬具(keigu), and it corresponds to something like, “Yours truly” or “(Yours) sincerely”.  Here are some other closing words:

敬白(keihaku), 謹言(kingen)

When writing business letters in Japanese, you will never end a letter with phrases similar to “Signed,” “Best wishes,” or “With affection.”

Want to learn more? Find out more about our Living Language Business Japanese subscription here.