Master the Proper Aisatsu in the Japanese Workplace

It's best to learn how to communicate effectively with your coworkers.

Photo Pakutaso

or greeting is a very important factor in Japan, especially in the workplace where manners matter the most. There are several phrases you can use for aisatsu. Here, we list down the most basic ones that can be very useful for you to communicate effectively with your colleagues.

Ohayo gozaimasu

Ohayo” is a greeting usually used to say “Good Morning,” during the morning as well as Konnichiwa and Konbanwa during the afternoon and evening. “Gozaimasu” is added to make it polite.

Usually, you have to use this phrase during the morning to greet someone. However, in some Japanese companies, it is customary to say
Ohayo gozaimasu,” when you are clocking in or greeting someone for the first time that day on any given hour, even in the evening. You can use this phrase as your first greeting for the day after arriving at your workplace.

In a casual situation, you can simply say “
Ohayo,” to your coworker, but always use the full phrase when greeting your boss or to those with a higher position. Even if you have a close relationship with them, it would sound impolite to greet them casually in the workplace.

Otsukaresama desu and Otsukaresama deshita

Otsukaresama desu is one of the most spoken or heard phrases in every Japanese workplace. There is no direct English translation for this but the closest would be “Thank you for your hard work.

Basically, there are three possible situations when you can use this phrase:

As a greeting
. You can say this phrase every time you meet your colleagues anytime and anywhere. Instead of saying “Hi” or “Hello” which is quite inappropriate to use in the workplace, make it a habit to say “Otsukaresama desu,” instead.

At work
. You can use it as an appreciation of someone’s hard work, especially if your coworker just got back from a meeting. In this case, “Tadaima modorimashita (I’m back) will be used, and in reply, you can say “Otsukaresama desu” (job well done).

At the end of the day
. This phrase can also be used as a reply to your colleagues after work, or when they are about to leave the office. In this situation, you need to replace ~desu (i.e. present tense) with ~deshita (i.e.past tense) since their work has been completely done. But, if you are confused about which phrase should be used, “otsukaresama desu,” will always be a safe choice.


: Mada kaerenai no? (Can’t you go home yet?)
You : Mada desu. (Not yet)
Co-worker : Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu (“Excuse my leaving earlier than you”)
You : Otsukaresama deshita (“Thank you for your work today”)

You can say “
Otsukare,” or “Otsukaresama,” to your coworkers if you want a more casual option, but always keep in mind to use the full phrase whenever you greet people who have a higher position than you in any given situation. 

Another phrase with a similar meaning is “
Gokurosama.” Please note that this phrase is oftentimes by those with a higher position towards their subordinates. Do not use this phrase to your boss or they might feel very offended. If your boss says “Gokurosama,” you may reply with “Otsukaresama desu/deshita.” 

Arigatou gozaimasu and Arigatou gozaimashita

Arigatou” is a phrase used to say “Thank you” to express gratitude for something that has been done to you. 

It is usually confusing for foreigners when to use “
Arigatou gozaimasu,” and when to use “Arigatou gozaimashita.” Even though we all know that grammatically, ~gozaimasu is used for present tense and  ~gozaimashita is its counterpart for past tense. 

You can say “
Arigatou gozaimasu” when you say “Thank you” right after you have received an act of kindness of favor from someone. On the other hand, when the action you appreciate is completely finished or was done a while ago, you can say “Arigatou gozaimashita.”

: Kono shiryou kashimasu (You can borrow this document)
You : Arigatou gozaimasu (Thank you = present tense)

(Next day, still borrowing the document)

: Shiryou, arigatou gozaimasu (Thank you = present tense)

(Next day, completely finished and about to return the document)

: Arigatou gozaimashita (Thank you = past tense)
Senior : Douitashimashite (You’re welcome)

You can say “
Arigatou” to your coworkers who are close to you if you want to be more casual around them. However, for those you have a higher position than you, you must use the full phrase. Also, do not forget to reply “Douitashimashite” if you are the receiver of the expression of gratitude.  “Douitashimashite” means you are welcome.

Shitsurei shimasu

This phrase can literally be translated as
I will do something rude (Shitsurei=rude), but it can have several meanings:

Excuse me
. This phrase is an expression used when you want to say “Excuse me” before you do something “rude” towards someone. For example, when you are about to enter someone’s personal space, touch someone’s personal belongings, or even when you hang up the phone, you must say “Shitsurei shimasu” or “Shitsurei itashimasu” to be more polite. 


As a greeting
. “Shitsurei shimasu” can be used upon entering or leaving a room, social gathering, or office before other people leave. If you want to enter a room, it is better to knock on the door twice first before saying this phrase. Always use the full phrase with “Shimasu or Itashimasu.” After you finish work, you can also say “Shitsurei shimasu” if you plan to leave before your other colleagues. Another way of saying it is “Osakini shiturei shimasu,” which means “Excuse me for leaving first” (osakini=ahead/first). There are other phrases you can use when you wish to leave such as bai-bai, ja ne, matane, and sayonara, but these are too casual and inappropriate to use in the workplace. 

Pardon me
. It can also be used when you did something rude or troublesome towards someone. If you want to say “Sorry” or “I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” you can say “Shitsurei shimashita” or “(taihen) Shitsurei itashimashita.” In this case, you may also say “Gomen(nasai)” or “Sumimasen” in a casual situation or “Moushiwake gozaimasen” for a more polite and formal situation.

: Ashita no kaigi wa 5ji kara desu. (“Tomorrow's meeting is from 5 o’clock”)
Co-worker : Are?! 15ji kara dewanai desu ka? (“Isn't it from 15 o’clock”)
You : Shitsurei shimashita. Ashita no kaigi wa 15ji, 3ji kara desu. (“Pardon me. Tomorrow's meeting is from 15 o’clock, 3 o’clock”)

The phrases mentioned above are only the basics. There are other phrases that you must learn to properly communicate in the Japanese workplace. Please take note that using the phrases above might be different depending on the rule or culture of each company or region you are assigned to. Just to be safe, make sure to check how your coworkers practice the
aisatsu beforehand.

 (22 November 2019)

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