What to write in a formal Japanese letter or email

Since I’ve been having quandaries about writing letters in Japanese to my professors, potential employers, etc. using professional and honorific language, I thought I’d share some useful information and expressions I came across while doing research on mail/letter writing in 日本語.

My journey of attempting to write a networking email to a Japanese employee I know has been utterly pathetic and embarrassing. An email that I was supposed to send three month ago has been procrastinated to today, and I’m not even sure if he remembers me. Similarly, communicating with my Japanese professors via email has always been a torture. I can sit in front of the computer screen for hours contemplating whether my word-use is appropriate, how to use greetings, and how to open and close the email without sounding like I copied and pasted from an online template. So, here are what I found:

Opening/Closing

拝啓 (Haikei): Dear
敬具 (Keigu): Sincerely yours

Opening Greetings

お元気でいらっしゃいますか。(Ogenki de irasshaimasu ka): How are you doing?… Very formal
お元気ですか。(Ogenki desu ka): How are you doing?… Formal
お手紙ありがとうございました。(Otegami arigatou gozaimashita): Thank you for your letter.
お久しぶりです。(Ohisashiburi desu): Long time no talk.
早速の返事ありがとうございました。(Sassoku no henji arigatou gozaimashita): Thank you for the quick reply.
お返事が遅れて、失礼いたしました。(ohenji ga okurete, shitsurei itashimashita): Sorry for my late reply.
突然のメール、失礼いたします。(Totuzen no meeru, shiturei itashimasu): Sorry for the sudden mail.
お忙しいところ大変申し訳ございませんが、~ (Oisogashii tokoro taihen moushiwake gozaimasenga): Sorry to interrupt while you are busy, but~

Final Greetings

~によろしくお伝えください。(~ ni yoroshiku otsutae kudasai): Please give my regards to ~
お返事お待ちしております。(Ohenji omachi shite orimasu): I look forward to hearing from you.
どうぞよろしくお願いいたします。(Douzo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu): Best regards, or please take care of…
ご質問、ご不明な点がございましたらお気軽にお問い合わせください。(Goshitumon, gofumei na ten ga gozaimashitara okigaruni otoiawase kudasai): If you have any questions or confusion, please feel free to ask me.

Thank you’s

〜心より御礼申しあげます。(~ kokoro yori orei moushi agemasu): ~thank you from the bottom of my heart.
誠にありがとうございました。(Makoto ni arigatou gozaimashita): Thank you very much.
おかげさまで~ (okagesamade~): Thanks to you…
~深く感謝しております。 (~ fukaku kansha shite orimasu): I really appreciate it…
胸がいっぱいになりました。(Mune ga ippai ni narimashita): I am filled with gratitude.

Sorry’s
申し訳ありませんでした。(Moushi wake arimasen deshita): I am really sorry.
~お詫び申し上げます。(~owabi moushi agemasu): ~ I apologize.
ご迷惑をおかけしました。(Gomeiwaku o okake shimashita): I am sorry for the inconvenience.
大変ご心配をおかけいたしました。(Taihen goshinpai o okake itashimashita): I am sorry that you worried about me.
~お恥ずかしいかぎりです。(~ohazukashi kagiri desu): I am so embarrassed that…
不注意で~ (Fuchuui de~): Due to carelessness~

Transitions

さっそくですが、~ (Sassoku desuga~): Without delay~
また、~ (Mata~): In addition, ~
さて、~ (Sate~): Now, ~
このたび~ (Kono tabi~): At this time~
今後は、~ (Kongo wa~): From now on~
つきましては、~ (Tsukimashitewa~): Therefore~

Other phrases

とても助かりました。(Totemo tasukari mashita): It really helped.
大変お世話になりました。(Taihen osewa ni narimashita): Your help has been enormous.
~していただけませんでしょうか。(~shite itadakemasen deshouka): Could you please~ (do this favor for me)?
誠におめでとうございます。(Makoto ni omedetougozaimasu): Congratulations!
~いただければ幸いです。(~itadakereba saiwai desu): I would really appreciate it if you could~
~楽しみにしております。(~tanoshimi ni shiteorimasu): I am looking forward to~

Happy Writing!

Sources
About.com, Gotte, Midori

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13 Comments

  1. I am perpetually forgetting these things. What to write? How to open? How to close? (Well, I usually close with どうぞよろしくおねがいいたします or an equivalent of the appropriate politeness level, but…)

    Thank you for this list. I am going to save it as a reference.

  2. I think you have the wrong kanji for “okurete” in your Opening Greetings section.
    I believe it should be 遅れて instead, because it’s late, not sent.

    This is really helpful for me writing thank you letters!
    Thank you!

    • Thanks, Ben! Mistake corrected.

      I definitely revisited this post yesterday to write that stack of 年賀状 😀 I’m also glad that this post was helpful to you — your feedback is much appreciated. Happy Everything.

  3. Thanks for the list!
    Do you have an example for how “拝啓 (Haikei): Dear” and “敬具 (Keigu): Sincerely yours” should be used? For example, does it go before or after the name of the person you are addressing?

    • Hi Jake,

      Sorry for the late response.

      Here is how I use “拝啓 (Haikei): Dear” and “敬具 (Keigu): Sincerely yours.”

      English:
      Dear Mr. Tanaka,
      Thank you for your letter.
      Sincerely,
      Jake

      Japanese:
      田中様
      拝啓 お手紙どうもありがとうございました。
      敬具
      ジェーク

      This is a good example. I would not use 拝啓 and 敬具 in emails. Hope that helps!

  4. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. Ill bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly. I’m quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next! deaekkakcfba

  5. Hello. I was wondering how I could say something like:

    “Dear Mr. Sato,
    My name is John. I got your e-mail from Mr. Smith.
    etc. ”

    Thanks a lot.

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