The Complete Japanese Business Vocabulary Guide for Newbies
In this post, we’ll go over basic vocabulary that’ll come in handy in a variety of situations in a Japanese office.
So how about it? Are you ready?
Let’s begin at the beginning.
- Greetings and Goodbyes
- Events and Concepts
- Company Hierarchy
Greetings and Goodbyes
This means “good morning,” as of course you’ve learned in basic Japanese. However, in a broader context, this greeting is not as confined as you might think. Seeing as how it’s literally an honorable form of “You’re early”—the regular polite form would be 早いです (はやいです)—it can be used whenever you meet someone for the first time that day. So if Ms. Kobayashi from Accounting says “おはようございます” and it’s sometime in the afternoon, don’t assume that one of you has suddenly lost your mind.
This one’s really versatile. When introducing yourself for the first time, it means “Nice to meet you.” When asking someone for a favor, it means “Please help me out.” The possibilities are virtually endless.
Whenever there’s a gathering of any kind and you depart before the scheduled conclusion, this is the phrase you’ll want to use. Literally translating to “I’m being rude ahead of you,” it’s simply acknowledging that your colleagues will be staying longer than you and, therefore, giving more of their time to the office. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a simple “お先に” (おさきに) will do just fine.
If you’re still struggling to find when to use this phrase, watching or listening to how native speakers may give you a better understanding of certain social cues. You can watch how native speakers use this term with a program like FluentU, which has authentic Japanese videos and a contextual dictionary for new words. Or you can look for podcasts that further explain Japanese business culture, like this one.
This is one of the more contextual phrases used in the workplace. It literally translates to “You’ve been working hard,” and loosely translates to “Thank you for your hard work.” While it can be used to thank someone who’s actually been working hard, it’s mostly used as a casual greeting, or a conversational starter or closer, especially when shortened to “お疲れ様” (おつかれさま). When you clock out with your “お先に失礼します” at the end of the day, your colleagues (and superior) will most likely break out into a uniform chorus of this phrase.
In every office environment, there’s some basic stuff you’ll need to get by. You’ll also need to know what it’s all called, so take note!
名刺 (めいし) — business card
This item is mandatory if you are an office worker, and customary to have even on a day-to-day basis. Though we have smartphones and infrared beams on flip phones that help us exchange information at lightning speed, there’s nothing simpler and more tangible than a pretty piece of cardboard (or holographic plastic) with your name on it! If you choose to get one, be sure to make it bilingual, and if you come from a Western country, be aware that the custom of exchanging meishi in Japan is slightly more regimented.
はんこ/印鑑 (いんかん) — personal seal or stamp
Handwritten signatures are relatively unusual in Japan, and are typically only required during a credit card transaction or the receiving of a package. However, when it comes to opening a bank account, or signing off on an important legal document, a personal seal will be needed. Getting a simple はんこ or an ornate 印鑑 made isn’t too hard—mine was made by the shoe repairman in my old neighborhood’s Daiei.
書類 (しょるい) — document
This is good kanji to recognize when using Microsoft Word.
電話 (でんわ) — telephone
This combines the kanji for “electronic” and “conversation.”
コンピューター (こんぴゅーたー) — computer
プリンター (ぷりんたー) — printer
コピー機 (こぴーき) — photocopier
ファックス (ふぁっくす) — fax machine
These last four are loanwords from English, hence their transcription into katakana.
Events and Concepts
面接 (めんせつ) — interview
Here’s a look at how to ace a Japanese job interview.
会議 (かいぎ) — meeting
It’s helpful to know that meetings in the Japanese office tend to work more toward reaching consensus than brainstorming for ideas. Also, be aware that seating is arranged by rank.
通勤ラッシュ (つうきんらっしゅ) — commuter rush
There are even trains dedicated to the rush hour, known as “Commuter Express” trains. Feel free to use them!
残業 (ざんぎょう) — overtime
給料 (きゅうりょう) — salary
Salaries are usually paid monthly.
ボーナス (ぼーなす) — bonus
年金 (ねんきん) — pension
Depending on your company, you may only be able to receive this pension once you leave Japan for good.
会社 (かいしゃ) — company
This one uses the kanji for “meet” and “office.” Be careful, though. A reversal of these kanji makes the word 社会 (しゃかい) which means “society” or, in an educational context, “social studies.”
事務所 (じむしょ) — office
While in recent years, the open-office layout is picking up steam in the West for ease of communication, such layouts have been used in Japan since their foundation. If there are any cubicles or offices, they’re only given to executive workers. While the ease of communication can be a bonus, some foreign workers may find it unproductive for getting work done. It’ll be up to you to figure out the balance between efficiency and work-related harmony.
会議室 (かいぎしつ) — meeting room
社長 (しゃちょう) — president/CEO
副社長 (ふくしゃちょう) — vice president
部長 (ぶちょう) — department manager
課長 (かちょう) — section manager
同僚 (どうりょう) — colleague
部下 (ぶか) — subordinate
That doesn’t even cover all of the positions! Here’s a more extended list.
Okay, so at first glance, the hierarchy, coupled with the conservative office environment, might seem intimidating. But a quick adjustment to your thinking can put it all in a different light. Just look at it this way: Everyone has a role to play, and it’s considered out-of-place to step outside that role. This goes back to the “harmony” concept mentioned earlier.
For example, while it’s acceptable to come up with a more efficient spreadsheet as a general employee in a Western workplace, in Japan, it must be the higher-ranked executives that innovate, with everyone else following. Now, of course this varies from industry to industry, but usually everyone’s job is to simply do no more or less than what’s expected of them.
In American sports culture, we’d simply call this, “playing your position.”
Any new member of a company will be required to do a self-introduction, or 自己紹介 (じこしょうかい), on their first day of work. Keep it short, simple and polite. Here’s a sample one:
(はじめまして。「なまえ」と もうします。「くにのなまえ」から きました。「なになに」ぶ で はたらかせていただきます。しゅみは「なになに」です。よろしくおねがいします。)
“Hello. My name is [first, last]. I’m from [hometown or country]. I’ll be working in the [such and such] Department. My hobbies include [insert hobby here]. I look forward to working with you.”
Even if you’ve completed basic Japanese, there might be some unfamiliar words used in the example above, aside from 来ました and です. Verbs such as と申します and させていただきます are humble forms of “called” (name) and “to do.”
While it’s acceptable to use the simple polite desu/masu form, using the humble form will score you extra points, as this communicates to your colleagues that not only have you taken out the time to learn their language, but that you also respect the high-level context in which the office is situated.
Also, if you come from a Western country, you might have to clarify which name to be called by. While some Japanese are aware that Western name order places the first (given) name before the last (family) name, or 名字 (みょうじ), others might not be.
If your name is Taylor Brown, for example, and you want people to call you “Brown,” you can clarify as follows:
(ぶらうん という みょうじで よんでください。)
“Please call me by my last name, Brown.”
Keep all of the above in mind, and on your first day at your new job, you’ll be ready to start your journey into the Japanese business world.
I wish you the best of luck!