Updated: Nov 8, 2019
By: Abbey Kruska
Published date: October 1, 2019
So you got a reply. You’ve sent out your resume, and now the real business starts. Setting up appointments and exchanging e-mails with your potential employer--it may not seem like much, but this is actually a critical stage of finding a job. Before your interview, your emails are the only contact your potential future employer will have with you, and its important to make a good first impression. So stretch out your fingers and brush up your typing skills!
Navigating Japanese communication can feel like a minefield for foreign students, and in a business situation where the stakes are high, one wrong move could make or break your chances of landing that dream job or internship. But in an ever-advancing modern world, face-to-face is not the only form of communication you have to worry about.
Business etiquette and know-how in Japan is, to say the least, extensive. There is a distinctly Japanese way to do just about anything: greet, exchange business cards, open doors, poor alcohol, and even sit! And online communication is no exception.
A Letter-Writing Legacy
Though becoming less and less popular with younger generations, Japanese 手紙 tegami, or letters, are still a huge part of Japanese tradition. Letters are sent for changes of season, celebrations, and traditional holidays like New Years or Obon. These letters are hand-written on theme-appropriate postcards or stationary, using complicated phrases and kanji that most Japanese youth nowadays would boggle at is if its a foreign language. Luckily, Japanese email exchanges don’t have to be that complicated, but it’s still important to consider Japan’s historical and cultural background when it comes to the formality of communication
The Basic Email Format
Your basic Japanese email will be composed of 5 parts. Addressing your recipient, the greeting, the body, the second greeting, and your contact information. As you can see, only one of the 5 sections actually has anything to do with what the email is about, but that’s Japanese business.
1. Addressing your aite
In Japanese, the word 相手 aite refers to the person on the other end of any exchange. Be it your boyfriend or girlfriend, your boss, your friend, or your work partner, your aite means your “partner” in communication. At the beginning of any business email, you need to include the name of the email’s recipient. Picture this like the “Dear XX” at the beginning of a letter.
Always start your email by referring to your 相手 aite (another side/partner) as the name they included in the e-mail, along with 様 (-sama). If a specific name is not listed, it’s okay to include whatever information they did include, such as “XX Corp Hiring Staff”. If you’re not referring to a specific person, do not include sama. Leave a space in between, and begin your email.
To a get-down-to-business Westerner, it may seem silly to beat around the bush before getting to the point of your email, but in Japan these greetings are considered respectful and show the other person that you care. Here are some basic greetings you can include:
If it is your first time replying and/or conversing to the recipient, it is proper etiquette to include a self-introduction including your school or company name. This introduction should look a little like this:
Or, if you already have a company you work for
With this, you can move on to the heart of your email:
3. Getting to business: making requests, confirming information, and asking questions
You’re writing this email for a reason. Here’s where that comes into the spotlight. This part of the email does not require much dressing up. As far as the contents go, you can get right to the point. However, remember that a level of formality is still needed when making requests or asking questions to your seniors. Below, we’ve listed some templates for creating your email body.
4. Tips and Tricks for Business Emails
Always reply in a timely manner and as soon as possible. Japanese people value punctuality and consistency, and they will be impressed with your professionalism. Remember, replying quickly=getting a job quickly! And yes, you can reply to the minute the e-mail arrives.
Don’t skip the small talk. Including a kind greeting such as “it’s gotten colder recently so please be careful not to catch a cold” shows the email’s recipient that you’re a kind and thoughtful individual. These manners aren’t a bonus in Japan, they’re 当たり前 atarimae-- a given.
Keep in mind the position of the person you’re communicating with. If this person is a friend or colleague, it may be okay to skip some small talk or be a little more casual. If this person is your senior, a stranger, or someone you’re making a request to, you’ll need to up your level of formality.
5. Closing Statements and Personal Information
Now that you’ve asked your question, solved your problem, or decided your appointment, now is the time to thank your aite for their time and help and let them know what the next step is. Here are a few helpful phrases to get you started.
Following your closing statement, all you need to do is sign off with your name and basic contact information. This should look something like:
Be sure to include this information in EVERY email! Based on what website you use to operate your email, you can even change your settings to include this personalized message in every email without having to write it every time.
Now that you’ve learned all the basics, you can try to formulate a solid Japanese business email on your own. Here’s an example to get you started.
Digital communication can be tricky--especially if you have to do it in a foreign language. Still, it doesn’t have to be a complete minefield. By following this basic format, you should be able to create an acceptable and even eloquent business email to your future employer, internship coordinator, professor, school, and more. Type away!