Anyone who works or has worked in Japan will be familiar with the ominous keigo. Keigo is polite Japanese taken to the next level and basically it’s used in any business or work-related environment. Now, the line between business and business casual can sometimes seem thin, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this as well. I work in advertising, which is generally a fast-paced environment, where speech tends to be more on the casual side. And work-related communications, which used to be all via email for me, has recently crossed the line to LINE (the Japanese Whatsapp variant).

Last week one of our vendors, who is a fantastically friendly french man, put me in contact with one of his Japanese colleagues via LINE for faster communication. I get along really well with the french man and we speak our minds casually, send emojis and all the fun stuff (while still remaining professional, of course), and he told me to act as casual with his Japanese coworker when speaking Japanese with her. Now, you can imagine my shock when I get an osewaninatteorimasu (I am indebted to you – basically the keigo way of saying “Hello”) to my konnichiwa (good afternoon). Without giving it even a second thought, I yoroshikuonegaiitashimasu-t her back (keigo way of saying “sincerely yours”). Then, the aforementioned friendly french man tells me to chill and drop the keigo… But when do you drop the keigo? Is it okay to even consider dropping the keigo at such an early stage? I tried again with an interesting mix of polite and semi-polite, where instead of desuka I would still send her a deshouka, and then again, I get the full on orimasu/itashimasu messages back. Was our step to business casual speech it too premature? To this day, I still wonder. We have spoken keigo to each other on LINE ever since.

Would love to hear some more keigo stories. Has anyone else ever felt this way? Let’s share some memories in the comments.

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