They always say first impressions count, and this is particularly true in Japan.
Having the right attitude and displaying appropriate etiquette reflects not only on an individual, but often on the entire company or organization as well.
Let’s take a look at how to introduce yourself in Japanese so you can create a positive first impression.
When meeting a new person in an English setting, we have the standard phrase “Nice to meet you”.
Nice to meet you in Japanese is “Hajimemashite” (初めまして). This phrase is almost always said with a bow.
The culture of bowing in Japan is complex, but here are some survival tips on your first visit to Japan:
Take note of where to place your hands when you bow. Women tend to lay their hands one on top of the other, fingers closed together, and hold them before the abdomen. Men usually leave their arms straight by their sides.
The degree of bowing depends on each situation. In modern society, a 20-degree bow is considered good etiquette in most situations. To be extra polite in business situations, a 30-degree bow would do fine.
Remember to always bow from the waist. Bowing just the head while keeping the body upright can be taken as a lack of respect for the other party.
Here’s a video showing how to bow properly in Japan
Extra tip: In business situations where you are greeting someone of a different ranking from you, take note of how low the other party bows, and adjust your own angle. A superior should never bow lower than their subordinate.
How to Introduce Yourself in Japanese
How to say my name is ____
The next step is to introduce your name. There are several phrases you can use depending on which situation you’re in. While many Japanese people see it as polite to introduce themselves by their full name, it is not necessary to do so in casual settings if you don’t want to.
Let’s take a look at 3 different versions of saying “My name is ____” in Japanese.
Very Formal (business/meeting parent’s in law): James Smith to moushimasu. (James Smithと申します). The entire phrase can be translated to “I say James Smith”.
To is a Japanese particle that emphasise the name. Moushimasu means “to say” and is part of the Japanese keigo system.
Formal: Watashi no namae wa James desu. (私/僕の名前はJamesです)
Casual: James desu (James です)
While “watashi” (私) is the standard word many people learn to refer to themselves in Japanese, it is in fact not as commonly used as thought.
In most parts of Japan, “watashi” has a feminine connotation, and is usually only used by females. For men, “boku” (僕) would be a much better.
But for extra formal situations you should stick with using watashi for both guys and girls.
Many people who are interested in Japanese culture know from anime or dramas that male characters refer to themselves as “ore” (俺). However, this term is not exactly suitable for first meetings and formal or business settings. Even in a casual setting, referring to yourself as “ore” can come across as dominant and slightly aggressive. Therefore, it is best to keep “ore” for use within close groups of friends.
But in most casual speech, you drop the personal pronouns altogether (I, you, them) and infer it from the context. See the casual example above.
Introduce your nickname
After introducing your name, some people would also like to introduce their nickname. In this case, you can use the following phrase.
Formal / Business: Jonathan Brown to moushimasu. Jon to yonde kudasai. (Jonathan Brown と申します。Jonと呼んでください)
Yonde means “call me” and kudasai means “please” in Japanese. The 2nd sentence means “Please call me Jon”
Casual: Jonathan desu. Jon demo iiyo. (Jonathanです。Jonでもいいよ）
Demo means “but” and iiyo means “ok”.
So Jon demo iiyo translate to “You can call me Jon too”.
Introduce your country
In Japanese culture, many people include their place of birth or hometown in their self-introductions. As a foreigner, it would be great to follow suit by introducing where you are from. It would be helpful to learn how to say your country name in Japanese beforehand.
To say “I’m from ___” in Japanese it is “___ kara kimashita”.
Kara means “from” and kimashita means “come”.
So to say “I’m from America/I come from America” it is:
“amerika kara kimashita.” (アメリカから来ました).
Introduce your company
In a business setting, it would be good to introduce your organization together with your name.
Business: ABC Inc. no James Smith desu. (ABC Inc.のJames Smithです。) – I am James Smith of ABC Inc.
Finishing the Introduction
In English, an introductory conversation ends with a repeat of the phrase “Nice to meet you”, but there is a set phrase in Japanese which is always used.
“Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” (よろしくお願いします) meaning “please take care of me from now on.”
In casual settings, it is alright to just shorten the phrase to “Yoroshiku.”
As with the first greeting, the end of a conversation is accompanied by a bow from both parties.
Who starts the introduction in Japan?
Japanese people are usually not very forthcoming, so unless the other party is your superior, it is usually alright to lead the conversation by introducing yourself first. After you have finished, you can prompt the other person to introduce themselves with the following phrase.
“Anata wa?” (あなたは？) “How about you?”. Anata means “you”.
Similar to the issue with “ore”, it is not the best idea to refer to the other party during a first meeting with the casual terms “kimi” (君) or “omae” (お前) – both meaning you. It can come across as overly-friendly or even rude to someone who is more conservative. Sticking to “anata” is the best.
Exchanging business cards in Japan
In a business situation, it is customary to exchange business cards with the other person during the first meeting.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Hold your business card facing away from you (the top of the card is closest to you), so that the other person can read it as they receive it.
- Always present your card with both hands, and receive theirs with both hands as well.
- It is not necessary to bow when exchanging cards, but it is a great way to show respect.
- Treat the other party’s card with respect. This means you shouldn’t write on the card, or place it into your pocket. Many Japanese have special card holders just to keep business cards in, and you can buy one if you constantly do business with them. In other cases, putting the card into your wallet before placing it back into your pocket or bag will suffice.
Knowing how to introduce yourself when meeting people is an important part of Japanese culture. As you can see it can be quite involved and nuanced, so knowing the correct steps will help others think positively of you.
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