How to write a formal letter in Japanese

Writing a formal letter in Japanese requires an understanding of various rules and conventions. It is an essential skill for personal, educational, and professional communication in Japan. In this blog post, we will provide you with the necessary guidelines and tips that will enable you to write a respectful and well-structured formal letter in Japanese.

Understanding the Structure of a Formal Letter

In order to ensure a highly respectful tone and proper format, it is important to follow the traditional structure of a formal Japanese letter.

1. The Date: Start by writing the date in the top right corner. Use the Japanese calendar system (年, 月, 日) by writing the year, the month, and the day.

2. The Recipient’s Name and Address: On the next line, write the recipient’s name, starting with their last name followed by their first name. Remember to add the appropriate honorific after their name, usually “様” (sama). The recipient’s full address should come under the name.

3. The Greeting: At the top left corner, begin the actual content of the letter with a polite greeting. “拝啓” (haikei) is the most common greeting for a formal letter and literally means “Dear sir/madam” or “Dear (person’s name)”.

4. The Body: Clearly and politely express your main points or reasons for writing the letter. The language used should be formal and avoid slang or casual expressions.

5. The Closing: Bring your letter to an end with a polite closing phrase such as “敬具” (keigu), which means “Respectfully yours” or “Sincerely.”

6. Your Name and Address: In the bottom right corner, include your full name and address. Remember to use the same format and level of formality that you used when addressing the recipient.

Important Tips for Writing a Formal Japanese Letter

To write a formal letter in Japanese more effectively and respectfully, consider the following tips:

1. Use Polite and Formal Language: Writing in a polite manner is crucial in Japan. Honorifics and respectful language should be used in both the recipient’s name and in the content of your letter. Additionally, try to use the polite form of verbs and avoid slang or overly casual expressions.

2. Proper Honorifics: When addressing the recipient, it is essential to use appropriate honorifics such as “様” (sama). Depending on the relationship and the relative social status of the recipient, other honorifics such as “さん” (san), “君” (kun), or “ちゃん” (chan) may be used, though these are less common and less formal.

3. Be Clear and Concise: In a formal Japanese letter, it is important to clearly express the intent of your letter in a concise manner. Avoid using ambiguous language or unnecessary details.

4. Make Use of Set Phrases: Formal Japanese letters often utilize set phrases, both in the greeting and closing parts of the letter. Familiarize yourself with these set phrases as they give your letter a more polite and professional tone.

By following this traditional structure and these essential tips, you can ensure your formal Japanese letters are respectful and properly formatted, greatly enhancing your communication skills in a Japanese context.