Yes, Some Japanese People Are Too Polite

To: Crecente From: Ashcraft

It's a vicious cycle of sorts. I'm working on a magazine article, and I've been dealing with one particular person at a particular company for over a month or so while I write this article. There's a fairly standard format for business email writing in Japanese. Here's what it looks like in English:


I am indebted. This is YOUR LAST name from COMPANY NAME.

And then you launch into whatever you are talking about. Pretty basic stuff. There are various ways of addressing people in Japanese and some are more polite than others. Often in writing, you'd use "sama" instead of "san." So, if I was sending you and email, I'd write "Crecente-sama." It's more polite than "san." Of course, one should never refer to oneself as "sama" or "san," but rather by your last name only. Doing so is very arrogant. That is, unless you are an arrogant crazed anime character out to take over the world, then by all means refer to yourself as "sama" or "san." (Oddly enough! Whenever Madonna is on Japanese TV, she refers to herself as "Madonna-san." Nobody has the guts to tell her, I think.) Anyway! Once a general rapport is established, it might feel more comfortable to use the slightly less formal "san" in email writing — though not always! The "I am indebted" phrase has several variations, and it's good to include. The part in which you introduce yourself and what company you are from is often dropped in long email conversations. It's too formal and cumbersome. And by the fifth RE: is it really necessary to introduce yourself? Many people feel that it isn't and cease doing so, keeping the "I am indebted."

Today, I'm sending emails back and forth with that particular person (mentioned above in case you forgot), and every email, he's still telling me his name and his company. I realise this by now! A while back, I spent the day at his company interviewing people for this article. He's a fairly young dude (about 26) and works for a big entertainment company. You'd think he's be slightly more informal. I have maybe sent forty emails to him, and yet, he still continues to do this. Heck, I can see his name in my mailbox before I open the email. I know it's him. And when I open his email, I know it's him again! And likewise, I do the same. Each time, I introduce myself and the magazine. Not doing so would be rude.

So I'm sending him an email, and I get an idea: What if I stop introducing myself? He knows who I am. Won't he then stop doing it too? It could be a signal that, hey, it's okay. Maybe after that we could switch to "san." Who knows! So, I run this idea by Mrs. Bashcraft, who asks, "Did he introduce himself in the email?" Yes, I reply. "Well, then so should you." Point. So I did, and I got an email from him about two hours ago, which read:


I am indebted. This is DUDE'S LAST NAME from COMPANY NAME.

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