Expressions Used in Letters

Expressions used in Japanese letters
Illustration by Claire Cohen. © 2018 ThoughtCo.

The difference between written language and conversational language in Japanese is much greater than in English. Japanese letters often use classical grammar patterns which are seldom used in conversation. Although there are no particular rules when writing to close friends, there are many set expressions and honorific expressions (Keigo) used in formal letters. A conversational style is not usually used when writing formal letters.

Opening and Closing Words

The opening and closing words in letters, which are similar to English's "Dear" and "Sincerely" etc., come in pairs.

  • Haikei (拝啓) - Keigu (敬具)
    The most common pair used in formal letters. Women sometimes use "Kashiko(かしこ)" as a closing word instead of "Keigu."
  • Zenryaku (前略) - Sousou (草々)
    This pair is less formal. It is usually used when you don't have time to write a long letter, so that the preliminary greetings are omitted. "Zenryaku" literally means, "omitting the preliminary remarks."

Preliminary Greetings

Ogenki de irasshaimasu ka. (very formal)
Have you been doing well?

Ogenki desu ka.
Have you been doing well?

Ikaga osugoshi de irasshaimasu ka. (very formal)
How have you been?

Ikaga osugoshi desu ka.
How have you been?

Okagesama de genki ni shite orimasu. (very formal)
Fortunately I'm doing well.

Kazoku ichidou genki ni shite orimasu.
The whole family is doing well.

Otegami arigatou gozaimashita.
Thank you for your letter.

Nagai aida gobusata shite orimashite moushiwake gozaimasen. (very formal)
I apologize for neglecting to write for such a long time.

Gobusata shite orimasu.
I'm sorry I haven't written for a long time.

These expressions or seasonal greetings can be combined in a variety of ways to form the preliminary greeting. The Japanese have long admired the seasonal changes, therefore it seems too abrupt to start a letter without the proper seasonal greeting. Here are some examples.

Gobusata shite orimasu ga, ogenki de irasshaimasu ka.
I'm sorry I haven't written for a long time, but have you been doing well?

Sukkari aki rashiku natte mairimashita ga, ikaga osugoshi de irasshaimasu ka.
It has become very autumn like; how have you been?

Samui hi ga tsuzuite orimasu ga, ikaga osugoshi desu ka.
Cold days continue; how have you been?

Final Greetings

Douka yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.
Kindly look after this matter for me.

~ ni yoroshiku otsutae kudasai.
Please give my regards to ~.

Minasama ni douzo yoroshiku.
Please give my regards to everyone.

Okarada o taisetsu ni.
Please take care of yourself.

Douzo ogenki de.
Take care of yourself.

Ohenji omachi shite orimasu.
I look forward to hearing from you.

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Abe, Namiko. "Expressions Used in Letters." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). Expressions Used in Letters. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Expressions Used in Letters." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).