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Japanese Culture and the Art of Words

Japanese Culture and the Art of Words

If you're doing business in Japan or working with the Japanese culture, it's crucial to get your head around some key language phrases.

The Japanese have a way of using words to beautify their communication.

As a foreigner it's important to try and familiarise yourself with some of the key phrases used on a daily basis.

The BBC highlighted one of these phrases in a recent online article - ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’ - which they dub the "Swiss Army Knife of Japanese".

So what does ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’ mean?

Well, there is no easy answer as it can not be directly translated outside of the context of Japanese culture.

It is commonly translated as ‘nice to meet you’ or ‘please take care of me’, however  these do not begin to capture the diverse use of the phrase and its cultural roots.

'Yoroshiku’ literally means ‘appropriately’ (or ‘as you see fit’) and ‘onegaishimasu’ comes from ‘onegai’ which means a request. A literal translation would be something along the lines of ‘please respond to my request appropriately’.

As with most things Japanese, the phrase and its intentions and meanings come back to Japanese values.

Kei Ishiguro, a sociolinguist and a professor at National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, explains: “Saying yoroshiku onegaishimasu in advance is an attempt by the requester to admit the imbalance within the situation and to repair it in order to maintain a positive relationship.”

Ishiguro believes using this phrase “puts emphasis on ‘how’ (your attitude) it is being said rather than ‘what’ (your request) is being said”. In other words, how polite you are matters more than what you actually say.

This in itself is a crucial point for anyone working with the Japanese - how things are presented, politeness, etiquette, formality and protocol many times take precedence over content, accuracy, etc.

It is crucial for foreigners to understand this so as to be able to communicate in the most appropriate manner with the Japanese.

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