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Japan is a country steeped in tradition and below the surface there are many hidden cultural niceties. And while your Japanese business associates probably don’t expect you to know and follow all these unspoken rules, it never hurts to try to meet them where they stand. Here are a few simple tips, from one non-Japanese to another, on how to have smoothly written correspondence with your Japanese contacts and colleagues.

Tip 1: Always Start with a Greeting

In Japan, the seasons are particularly important. So much so that most formal business letters or emails start with a special greeting that matches the time of year. Take a look at the examples below.

February 梅花の候 Plum blossom season
April 桜花爛漫の候 Riot of cherry blossoms season
June 梅雨の候 Rainy season
August 酷暑の候
or 残暑の候
Season of intense heat
October 秋晴れの候 Clear autumn season
December 師走の候
or 向寒のみぎり
Time of the twelfth lunar month
Time of facing the winter

Most letters will start off with something like “Wishing you well at the beginning of the plum blossom season” or “I hope you are in the best of health as the rainy season comes to an end.” These are set phrases that even have their own special menu in Japanese Microsoft Word so that they can be inserted automatically.

Even if you do not use a seasonal greeting, it is bad form to jump straight into your message without some sort of pleasantry. A Japanese professor of mine in graduate school said that one of the things that had taken her the longest to get used to in the United States was how students would jump right into the point of their email without any precursors. She found it extremely jarring.

Tip 2: Organize Correctly for Quick Comprehension

There is a specific format for Japanese business letters and emails. This allows the reader to know instantly what is important and what is just fluff added to preserve the niceties of politeness. Here is a basic diagram.

By following this simple format, your Japanese reader will be able to quickly glean what you are writing about. Keep in mind that as a non-native English speaker anything that you do to make comprehension easier for them will be highly appreciated.

Tip 3: Formality Matters

Japan has formality built into the grammar and form of its very language. A business letter will inherently follow the rules of formality. While you may be on very good terms with your Japanese counterparts, maintaining this formality in any official correspondence is not only culturally correct, but also good manners. Being too informal, even in private emails, may seem a bit unnatural to your Japanese friends. To read more about formality in Japan check out this post.

These tips can help you with your English-speaking contacts, but what about translation? Japan has its own special challenges when it comes to going from English to Japanese and visa verse. If you need assistance with your Japanese translation projects, contact us to find out more.

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