Ultimate Guide to Business Japanese
By Spenser Suzuki | June 14, 2023
Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Business Japanese! Whether you're a foreigner living in Japan, job hunting for positions requiring Japanese proficiency, or looking to enhance your business communication skills, this comprehensive guide will provide you with the knowledge and resources you need to succeed. From understanding the nuances of Business Japanese to preparing for exams and acing job interviews, we've got you covered.
Well, what is business Japanese? Business Japanese is the formal version of Japanese you would use in work settings, meetings, and negotiations. It differs from everyday conversational Japanese in that it places even greater emphasis on politeness and respect towards superiors and clients. In business Japanese, you will often encounter the use of passive voice, indirect expressions, and keigo honorific language as a means to convey humility and deference.
For instance, when running late, you might casually say 遅くなりそうなんだけど、ごめんね！ , or osoku narisou nandakedo, gomen ne! to a friend, meaning: It looks like I'm going to be late, sorry! However, when addressing your boss, a more formal expression such as 丁寧に申し訳ありませんが、予定よりも遅くなる見込みです, or teinei ni mōshiwake arimasen ga, yotei yori mo osoku naru mikomi desu is appropriate, which translates to I sincerely apologize, but it seems I will be later than planned. In both cases, you apologize for the delay, but in the second example, the language used is more formal and complex. By placing the apology at the beginning, it emphasizes taking responsibility and is perceived as more formal and sincere.
But hey, it's not always black and white. Sometimes the line between business Japanese and everyday Japanese gets blurry, and it can vary depending on the situation and the people involved. Still, knowing the main differences can be super helpful in communicating efficiently in a professional setting and navigating through everyday life.
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Business Japanese Proficiency Test (BJT)
If you want to work in Japan, the Business Japanese Proficiency Test (BJT) is one of the best ways to prove to employers your Japanese fluency.
As you browse through job listings, you might encounter positions that specify the need for applicants to have a certain level of proficiency in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). It's important to know that in these instances, the Business Japanese Proficiency Test (BJT) can be considered as an equivalent or even a more specialized alternative, depending on the specific criteria outlined for the job.
What is the BJT?
The BJT is a standardized exam that assesses practical communication, business etiquette, and familiarity with specific business Japanese vocab and phrases used in professional settings. It's designed to equip you with the language abilities necessary for thriving in the business world from interoffice communications to business meetings. The test takes about 2 hours, and there are 80 questions. The results of the test are represented by a score of 0 - 800 points. In addition, there are six ranks (J5 to J1+), depending on the score, which are given as a measure of ability.
J1+: Able to communicate sufficiently in Japanese in any business situation
J1: Able to communicate appropriately in Japanese in a wide range of business situations
J2: Able to communicate appropriately in a limited range of business situations
J3: Able to achieve some degree of communication in Japanese in a limited range of business situations
J4: Able to achieve minimal degree of communication in Japanese in limited range of business situations
J5: Virtually no ability to communicate in Japanese in business situations
Which BJT level do I need?
J4, J5- If you are aiming for a position that requires basic communication like customer service or any entry level job.
J3-If you aim for a position with more complex business interactions, such as in a corporate environment dealing with negotiations, or with complex documents. However there still may be situations where you aren’t able to understand.
J2- If you aim for a position in a more specialized field such as finance or business which requires fluent communication in Japanese, including understanding and producing complex documents, presentations, and interactions
J1,J1+ - If your role involves complex negotiations, handling sensitive cultural matters, or other high-stakes interactions in Japanese, this is the level to aim for. Positions of this sort may be someone that is in upper management or if you want to have your own business.
If you are looking to improve your Japanese level, check out our article on our Guide to Japanese Tips!
Should I take the Business Japanese exam?
The BJT serves as a recognized certification that showcases your language skills and enhances your credibility,
It is probably necessary if you're aiming for roles in :
- Multinational companies with a presence in Japan
- Japanese companies that operate globally
- Business development positions
- International sales and marketing gigs
- Customer service or support jobs dealing with Japanese clients
- Finance, hospitality, tourism, and consulting that involve interactions with Japanese counterparts.
If you're eyeing any of these positions, taking the BJT exam not only will help with your work but also will definitely give you an upper hand against other candidates. It is a way to signal to employers that you are committed to integrating into the work environment and show your dedication to understanding and embracing Japanese business practices. Many Japanese companies value employees who can navigate the intricacies of the local business culture, adhere to proper etiquette, and engage in respectful communication.
Which jobs don't require the BJT?
While there are many job opportunities where the BJT is beneficial, it's not necessarily a requirement for all positions. For positions that involve extensive communication and interaction with Japanese-speaking clients, customers, or colleagues, the JLPT instead of the BJT is often required. This is applicable to industries such as IT, engineering, education, healthcare, translation, and interpretation. The JLPT demonstrates your overall proficiency in the Japanese language and is valuable for roles where strong language skills are essential.
- Fast food worker, Cashier, Convenience Store worker
- English Teacher
- Delivery driver
- Factory worker
- Construction worker
- Any job that doesn't require direct communication with clients/coworkers
Do I need a Japanese language certification to find a job?
While a certification can be beneficial in certain situations, it's important to note that it is not the sole measure of language proficiency. It's possible to develop strong language skills through self-study, immersion, or practical experience without pursuing a certification.
But some employers may require a Japanese language certification as a prerequisite or as evidence of your language proficiency, which in that case you might have to get it.
Where to take the BJT?
With testing centers operational every day, you can choose a date and time that suits your schedule, all of which can be conveniently reserved through an online platform. Test center locations can be found here. Test takers can check if there are open seats at a test center by calling PearsonVue Customer service.
For more information visit the official BJT Site.
Business Japanese Test Problems
What kind of questions might I find in the Business Japanese Exam?
- Choose the appropriate term for "business negotiation":
- a) 会議 (kaigi)
- b) 取引 (torihiki)
- c) 販売 (hanbai)
- d) 報告 (hōkoku)
Solution: b) 取引 (torihiki)
"Business negotiation" in Japanese is 取引 (torihiki). The other choices are as follows:
- 会議 (kaigi): meeting or conference.
- 販売 (hanbai): sales or selling.
- 報告 (hōkoku): report or presentation.
2) Select the correct phrase for "customer satisfaction":
- a) 社内報 (shanaihō)
- b) 客観的 (kyakukanteki)
- c) 販売促進 (hanbai sokushin)
- d) 顧客満足 (kokyaku manzoku)
Solution: d) 顧客満足 (kokyaku manzoku)
"Customer satisfaction" in Japanese is 顧客満足 (kokyaku manzoku) with 顧客 meaning customer and 満足 meaning satisfied.
- 社内報 (shanaihō): internal report or company report.
- 客観的 (kyakukanteki): objective or impartial.
- 販売促進 (hanbai sokushin): sales promotion or promoting sales.
Question: Choose the appropriate sentence ending to express a polite request:
(Please submit the report by tomorrow).
- a) ください (kudasai)
- b) なさい (nasai)
- c) なさってください (nasatte kudasai)
- d) てください (te kudasai)
- d) てください (te kudasai)
In this question, we need to choose the sentence ending that expresses a polite request. The form てください (te kudasai) is commonly used to make polite requests in Japanese. Therefore, the correct sentence would be 報告書を明日までに提出してください, or, please submit the report by tomorrow.
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Read the following passage and answer the question:
Question: What is the purpose of the sales promotion campaign?
- a) Offering special discounts and giveaways
- b) Promoting the new product
- c) Distributing information through SNS and email newsletters
- d) Generating customer interest
Answer: b) Promoting the new product
It states that the company has started a sales promotion campaign for a new product. The campaign includes limited-time special discounts and giveaways, as well as delivering information through social media and email newsletters to capture customer interest. However, the main purpose indicated in the passage is to promote the new product. Therefore, option b) is the correct answer.
In the listening portion of the exam, you are tested on your ability to understand phrases you may hear in a professional setting. The audio samples are designed to mimic actual business situations you might encounter and you will be asked questions about what you heard.
A fantastic resource that you might want to check out is (JLPT LISTENING Sample Exam with Answers). It will show you dialogues and vocabulary you'll see on the test, and there's no better way to prepare than by taking practice tests.
Having a tough time understanding Japanese? Check out our article on our 15 tips to Japanese Listening!
Starting to learn Business Japanese
Before investing your time and resources into Business Japanese, it's crucial to have a solid foundation in the fundamentals of the language. This typically means having at least a JLPT N3 level proficiency. At this level, you will be able to read and comprehend written materials that contain specific content related to everyday topics. Additionally, you will be capable of listening to and understanding coherent conversations in everyday situations, even when spoken at a near-natural pace.
Japan Switch specializes in providing communicative Japanese lessons that cater to the specific needs of individuals living in Japan. We offer affordable offline and online Japanese lessons that focus on practical language skills necessary for daily life.
Once you've got a good grasp of everyday Japanese, it's time to shift your focus to Business Japanese. There are a few different ways you can tackle this. Sure, studying from a textbook is a classic approach and can help you with vocabulary and expressions. Let's look at some less-traditional and more fun/engaging ways to level up your business Japanese.
One awesome method is language exchange. This means partnering up with a native Japanese speaker who wants to learn your language or is already fluent in it. You'll have conversations where you can practice Business Japanese while helping them improve their language skills. It's a win-win situation that gives you practical experience and dynamic learning opportunities.
You can find language exchange partners on platforms like ConversationExchange, HelloTalk, and Tandem. These websites connect language learners from all over the world. Look for partners who are interested in Business Japanese or professionals working in Japanese-speaking environments. Not only will you improve your language skills, but you'll also expand your network and make international connections.
For more information on Language Exchange check out our Guide to Japanese Language Exchange.
Naturally, when it comes to studying, there's the classic method of studying from a textbook.
Japanese for Busy people
"Japanese for Busy People" by the Association for Japanese-Language Teaching has lots of practice exercises, drills, and review sections to make sure that you’re getting practice in real business Japanese situations such as negotiating a contract with a supplier, writing formal emails and business letters, and discussing projects with your team. But what really sets this book apart is how it dives into the cultural side of things. It's not just about the language - it also gives you insights into Japanese culture, etiquette, and customs which is super important for effective communication in Japan. It helps you understand the language in a deeper way and navigate social situations with cultural sensitivity.
Official Business Japanese Textbook
A great resource that can be used to study for the BJT is the "Business Japanese Proficiency Test Official Textbook: BJT Kanji" and "Business Japanese Proficiency Test Official Textbook: BJT Vocabulary". These official textbooks, published by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, are specifically designed for the BJT exam and cater to each level. They focus on the specific kanji characters and vocabulary commonly used in business settings,
The cost of each book varies, but both the ebook and paperback versions are available on platforms like Amazon. The ebook version typically costs around 1,600 yen, while the paperback version is priced around 1,870 yen.
Studying Business Japanese doesn't have to be expensive since there are numerous free options at your disposal. While it's important to exercise caution regarding the credibility of online content, the internet remains a treasure trove of resources for your language learning journey.
language resources, such as websites, blogs, and platforms, offer a wealth of free materials, including vocabulary lists, grammar explanations, sample dialogues, and exercises specifically design Online ed for business settings. Websites like Coursera, Udemy, and even Duolingo offer programs focused on business-level Japanese vocabulary. Additionally, language learning apps like Memrise, and Anki provide free language courses or flashcard systems that can assist in learning new business phrases and words and while making practice more fun.
Watching Japanese news and television is something you can do even when you’re busy. Japanese is spoken by native speakers, often at a natural pace, helping you learn the rhythm, intonation, and speed of actual Japanese conversations, and thus improving your listening comprehension skills. Specifically news programs that focus on economics, business, or politics, are rich in specialized vocabulary and phrases used in professional and business settings. Just by listening to these channels, you will be exposed to new vocabulary and get examples of how they are used in a sentence. Also these news programs often cover topics relevant to current affairs and the economic climate, which may provide valuable context and background knowledge for business discussions.
That Japanese Man Yuta: Yuta has a channel where he does street interviews in Japan and uses them as real-world learning materials. He also gives his cultural insights that can be valuable for those who want to live or work in Japan.
JapanesePod101: This channel offers a comprehensive suite of lessons catering to various proficiency levels. Their content covers vocabulary, grammar, culture, and even Japanese dialects.
Business Japanese (ビジネス日本語) by Lingo High: This YouTube channel focuses specifically on business Japanese. The videos cover topics like keigo, writing business emails, job interview skills, and many more.
Having conversations with native Japanese speakers is a great way to level up your Japanese. Check out our article on our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Conversation!
Looking for a Job
Where to find jobs that require business Japanese
The best way to find jobs in the current age is through Online Job Portals. Here are some good resources to help you find a job. Sites like LinkedIn are also a great resource when it comes to networking as you are able to display your skills and experience while searching for a specific job you want.
How to prepare for an interview
Since every company and industry has its own style of interviews and unique company visions, a little homework on the company culture you're stepping into could really give you an edge. With that said, Japanese job interviews differ from Western interviews in several ways.
The primary distinction lies in the expectations placed on interviewees. For starters, when talking about what you've achieved, be humble and modest. In Western interviews, candidates want to project confidence, emphasizing their achievements and strengths whereas in Japan, excessive boasting may not sit well with the interviewers.
Another thing is that in Japanese interviews, HR plays a huge role in decision-making and decides whether or not you'd be a good fit for the company culture and values. This is because Japanese companies prioritize harmony and cultural fit within their organizations. Therefore, it's important to demonstrate not only your qualifications and skills but also your understanding and appreciation of Japanese business customs and values during the interview process.
Also, in order to prepare for a job interview in a Japanese company is to familiarize yourself with common interview questions. They might ask about why you want to work in Japan, your understanding of their company, and your future goals. By preparing responses to these common questions, you can increase your confidence and demonstrate your readiness to contribute to their company.
What kinds of questions will I need to answer in an interview?
If you’re preparing for an interview, you might be unsure of what they will ask you. Here is a sample question that is commonly asked.
What do you consider your strengths and how do you think you can contribute to this position?
Kono yakuwari de wa, watashi no tsuyomi wa koukateki na communication to mondai kaiketsu nouryoku desu. Kore ni yori, chiimu no kyouryoku to ishikettei ni kouken shimasu. Mata, keikaku to soshiki ryoku ni mo sugurete ori, task wo kouritsuteki ni kanri dekimasu. Kuwaete, atarashii kankyou ya henka ni mo juunan ni taiou shimasu. Zentaiteki ni, korera no tsuyomi wo ikashite chiimu ya soshiki no mokuhyou ni kouken suru koto wo tanoshimini shiteimasu.
In this role, my strengths lie in effective communication, problem-solving, planning, organization, and teamwork. I am eager to utilize these strengths to contribute to the team and help achieve the organization's goals.
Shouraiteki na kyaria gooru wa nan desu ka?
What are your future career goals?
Shouraiteki ni wa, gyouseki koujou ni chokusetsu kouken dekiru position wo mezashiteimasu. Mata, sono katei de atarashii skill to chishiki wo shuutoku shi, team no ichiin to shite no hatarakikata wo kaizen shitai to omoimasu.
In the future, I aim to hold a position where I can directly contribute to improving the company's performance. Additionally, I would like to learn new skills and knowledge in the process, and improve the way I work as a member of the team.
Business Japanese: Useful Words and Phrases
There are a lot of different words you will use in a meeting but here are some that you might find important.
Using all four words in a sentence:
提案 (teian) の打ち合わせ (uchiawase) 会議 (kaigi) で、私はチームリーダーとしての責任 (sekinin) を感じました。
Translates to, "In the arrangement meeting, I made a proposal for a new project as my responsibility."
Business Japanese: Commonly used phrases
Doumo yoroshiku onegaishimasu
Nice to meet you/Please help me out
Sorry to bother you when you’re busy
Let me go confirm that
Thanks for the hard work
Business Japanese and Proper Etiquette
It's important to be mindful of the hierarchical structure and cultural norms that exist within Japanese business etiquette. The emphasis on respect for authority figures differentiates it from Western work culture, which tends to be more informal and egalitarian. By sticking to these protocols you will be able to navigate the Japanese business landscape with confidence.
An example of this hierarchical dynamic is the relationship between "kohai" and "senpai". A senpai is a senior or more experienced colleague, while a kohai is a junior or less experienced one. This relationship is not just about seniority in age, but also experience, knowledge, and skills. And within a workplace a “kohai” would use polite and respectful language (Keigo) when addressing their senpai, while the senpai would use more casual language. The kohai is expected to respect and defer to their senpai, while the senpai is expected to guide, protect, and mentor their "kohai".
Types of Keigo
There are three main types of Keigo that you use depending on your relationship to the person you are speaking with.
When speaking to customers, clients and superiors you would use 尊敬語(Sonkeigo) which means respectful language. This is a way to elevate the status of the person you are speaking to, out of respect for their position or status.
An example in a workplace would be: ご報告をお書きになりました。(Gohokoku o okaki ni narimashita.) meaning I have completed the report. The part that makes it sonkeigo is by putting ご before 報告, お in front 書き to make it more polite and formal. .
The second is 謙譲語(Kenjogo) or humble language. You might use this when you are talking about your achievements during a job interview to not sound arrogant, downplaying your own role to highlight respect for the other party.
An example being レポートを書かせていただきました。(Repoto o kakasete itadakimashita.), meaning, I had the opportunity to write the report. This is just as it would be in a Western workplace and saying that you were given the opportunity shows gratitude.
Lastly there is 丁寧語(Teineigo) meaning polite language. This is probably what you would use in everyday life to strangers that you may meet. Unlike the other two, teineigo is used to convey general politeness and respect without changing the status of the speaker or listener.
An example of this is, レポートを書きました。 (Repoto o kakimashita.) meaning I wrote the report.
When speaking to your boss
When it comes to interacting with superiors, maintaining a respectful and formal demeanor is crucial. In Japan, there is a strong emphasis on hierarchy and deference to authority figures. Use polite language and honorifics, such as adding "-san" after their name, to show respect. Actively listen, be attentive, and avoid interrupting or challenging their decisions. Additionally, bowing is customary when greeting or expressing gratitude to superiors, emphasizing the importance of respect in Japanese business etiquette.
When speaking to customers
When dealing with customers, providing exceptional service while maintaining a professional yet friendly approach is highly valued. Use respectful language and polite expressions to address them. Anticipate their needs, actively listen to their requests, and strive to exceed their expectations. Politeness, patience, and a customer-centric mindset are key attributes in Japanese business etiquette. Sincere appreciation for their patronage and gratitude for their business should be expressed.
A phrase you will always hear whenever you go anywhere is いらっしゃいませ (Irasshaimase) meaning “”come on in”. This is a way to greet any customer and guest and is a way to show that they are welcome. And as a way of offering assistance, staff may also say ご希望がございましたら、お申し付けください (Go kibou ga gozaimashitara, omoushi tsuke kudasai), which translates to "If there is anything you need, please let us know."
When speaking to colleagues
Interactions with colleagues of the same rank should be based on mutual respect and cooperation. At first you might speak in keigo with your colleagues but they may tell you that you can talk casually as you become closer to them. There tends to be more flexibility in language usage compared to interactions with superiors or customers and can shift as you develop more of a connection with them.
When speaking to subordinates
In interactions with subordinates, the use of keigo is generally not necessary, but respectful language is always appreciated. To acknowledge their hard work and contributions, you might say something along the lines of "あなたの努力を評価しています" (Anata no doryoku o hyouka shiteimasu), which translates to "I appreciate your efforts."
Another thing that is important is promoting open communication in order to build a better relationship with your team. Encourage your subordinates to voice their thoughts and ideas as Japanese people tend to be more timid and scared to speak up. This can be facilitated by asking "意見があれば、教えてください" (Iken ga areba, oshiete kudasai), which translates to "If you have any opinions, please let me know." By saying this you are showing mutual respect and openness, allowing for productive and meaningful dialogues.
Speaking with Japanese native speaking friends is a great way to practice Japanese. Check out our guide on Guide to Japanese Friends!
Although the path to mastering Business Japanese might seem like a steep climb, with the right mindset and the plethora of resources at your fingertips, it can be an exciting and rewarding journey. Whether you're diving into language schools, flipping through textbooks, or immersing yourself in language exchanges, the path to acing that exam or landing your dream job can be both enjoyable and achievable.
If you're looking to expand your knowledge of Japanese particles or linguistic nuances, check out our other articles:
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