Sending emails (メールを送る, mēru o okuru) is a fundamental part of business communication in Japan and whether they are 社内編 (shanai-hen, within your own company) or 社外編 (shagai-hen, outside your company) getting the language correct is crucial to success.
Writing a work-related email in Japanese might seem intimidating at first since you need to know when to use 尊敬語 (sonkeigo, honorific language) and 謙譲語 (kenjōgo, humble language), but by mastering some vocabulary and all-purpose grammatical structures you’ll be emailing in no time.
The first challenge of a Japanese business email is how to address it. At the top of the correspondence, put the addressee’s full 会社名 (kaishamei, company name), 肩書き (katagaki, position) if applicable and full name — each on a separate line. In order to prevent embarrassing misspellings, I recommend copying and pasting titles and names from the addressee’s email signature as much as possible so you don’t make any mistakes with their kanji. Don’t forget to include the honorific title 様 (sama) after their name, which also goes for names on correspondence sent by post.
Next, move on to the greeting. For emails to clients, begin with お世話になっております (O-sewa ni natte-orimasu, Thank you for your patronage). Note the use of the humble “to be” verb orimasu rather than the standard imasu. Following that, introduce yourself. In my case it would be with 株式会社ジャパンタイムズのウィリアムソンと申します (Kabushikigaisha Japan Taimuzu no Wiriamuson to mōshimasu, I am The Japan Times, Ltd.’s Williamson). After sending that initial email, you generally don’t have to include “kabushikigaisha” (public corporation). Instead, use the slightly less formal ジャパンタイムズのウィリアムソンです (Japan Taimuzu no Wiriamuson desu, This is The Japan Times’ Williamson).
Phew, we’ve made it past the introductions. The main body of the email, however, will likely be the most difficult. I find it useful to classify emails into two types: Either you are requesting something from your client or responding to their request.
Generally, a request is considered more polite when it offers the other party an easy way to say “no.” For example, ファイルをご確認ください (Fairu o go-kakunin kudasai, Please check the file) might be easy to say no to in English, but in Japanese the nuance is such that, while still polite, it’s a bit more direct and harder to refuse. A better way to make the same request would be to write お手数をおかけしますが、ファイルをご確認頂けますと幸いです (O-tesū o o-kakeshimasu ga, fairu o go-kakunin itadakemasu to saiwai desu, I’m sorry to trouble you, but I’d really appreciate it if you could check the file). Not only does this acknowledge that your request puts the other party through some trouble, it allows them to refuse without risking offense. If you’ve been working with the person for a long time, or they’re in your own company, ~頂ければ助かります (~itadakereba tasukarimasu, If you did ~ it would help me out) can be used instead of ~itadakemasu to saiwai desu.
When replying to someone else’s request, the most important thing to remember is to acknowledge that you’ve read every single part of their email. When they’re simply providing more information, a simple 承知致しました (shōchi-itashimashita, I understand) will suffice. If you’re replying to an email, usually the original message will be included below your response. In this case, 下記承知致しました (kaki shōchi-itashimashita, I understand the information below) works well. Replacing shōchi-itashimashita with かしこまりました (kashikomarimashita) also works, but 分かりました (wakarimashita) would be too familiar.
But say they also asked you to check a file for them. You could reply ファイルを確認致しました (Fairu o kakunin itashimashita, I have checked the file) or ファイルを拝見致しました (Fairu o haiken itashimashita, I have looked at the file). Both these responses use kenjōgo: 致す is the humble form of する (suru, to do), while the latter utilizes a specialized vocabulary word, 拝見 (haiken, look at). Other useful words that feature the 拝 kanji include 拝受 (haiju, receive) and 拝借 (haishaku, borrow). But in general, when letting your client know the specific actions you’re taking, you can never go wrong with using ~致します (~itashimasu, I will do ~).
Finally you’ve reached the end of your message and have the choice of two polite options to end things off. If you haven’t asked the other party to undertake any actions themselves use 引き続き、どうぞ宜しくお願い致します (Hikitsuzuki, dōzo yoroshiku o-negai itashimasu, I would appreciate your support again in the future). But if you’ve asked them to do something, acknowledge that fact withお忙しい中お手数をおかけしますが、何卒宜しくお願い申し上げます (O-isogashii naka o-tesū o o-kake-shimasu ga, nanitozo yoroshiku o-negai mōshiagemasu, I know you are busy, but thank you very much for your cooperation). Then sign your last name and voila: You’ve written a textbook-perfect email.
Speaking of textbooks, reference materials on the subject of business emails, such as The Japan Times’ own “Writing Business Emails in Japanese: The Basics and Practical Examples,” provide ready-to-use 例文集 (reibunshū, sample messages) for everyday situations. They cover things like アポイントを取る (apointo o toru, scheduling an appointment) and 変更を要求する (henkō o yōkyū suru, requesting a change), and can be helpful in familiarizing yourself with the general formality required for a Japanese business email. They’re also customizable, allowing you to swap out details and quickly craft a message specific to your situation.