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Writing a e-mail to someone in Japan

  1. Sep 14, 2011 #1
    I been trying to look into e-mail etiquette in Japanese culture. I do not speak Japanese actually. The person I was refereed to did reply in English.

    I was wondering if last name-san is sufficient or do I need something else.

    I am trying to purchase a metal that they only forge for my research.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2011 #2


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    My suggestion would be to just write it as a normal business letter. People and companies from Japan are used to dealing with people from the western world and don't expect us to know or understand their customs; Japan is not THAT "exotic". This is what I always do (I frequently collaborate with people from Japan).

    It is perhaps worth keeping in mind that customs differ even between countries in the western world, I've had to learn how to write polite letters in English since British business letters tend to be much more formal than letters in Swedish. Letters in German are very different again (do you know the correct way to address someone with a PhD in engineering in Germany?).

    Hence, my suggestion is to always use the normal "English" (US or British does not really matter) style since this is something everyone is familiar with; UNLESS you are 100% that you can do it correctly in the "national" style.
  4. Sep 15, 2011 #3
    But the last names are always stated first right? I should at least do Mr. (...).

    That is more of a cultural thing than style.
  5. Sep 16, 2011 #4


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    Not sure what you mean. People from Japan have a first name and a surname; if you write a letter you would address it to Mr. (or Dr. etc) Surname; i.e. exactly the way you would write a business letter to someone in the US/UK.

    And yes, I agree that it is a cultural thing. But remember that culture goes both ways, unless there is a specific reason for why they should expect you to know the correct Japanese style of writing (using -san etc) they will be perfectly happy (and expect) a letter written in a correct "international" style. This is also the way they will reply.
    The only time I've ever heard one of my Japanese colleagues use the "-san" form when referring to a westerner was when he was talking about someone who had spent a lot of time in Japan and spoke a bit of Japanese. Japanese people tend to be more polite than most, but when speaking English and dealing with westerners they mostly just use (and expect) the British "style" of being polite.

    My main point is: don't worry about it.
  6. Sep 16, 2011 #5


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    And, since you want to impress, have a different set of eyes than yours proof your letter. (eg. your opening post has a 4% vocabulary error rate - 2 words in 50). :wink:
  7. Sep 17, 2011 #6
    I've been watching Anime for a very long time and here what I know

    If you don't know someone, yes it is [surname]-san. Once you get to know the person you got with [name]-chan (usually with an agreement).

    However since he replied in English, go with Mr.[surname]
  8. Sep 17, 2011 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    To be honest, I don't think "I've watched a lot of cartoons" is really a good indicator of expertise. Especially on a physics forum.
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