Formal Introductions in Japanese

Learn the correct honorifics when addressing others


Japan is a country whose culture stresses ritual and formality. Proper etiquette is expected in business, for example, and even saying hello has a set of strict rules. Japanese culture is steeped in honorific traditions and hierarchies depending on a person's age, social status, and relation. Even husbands and wives use honorifics when speaking to each other.

Learning how to make formal introductions in Japanese is vital if you plan to visit the country, do business there, or even take part in ceremonies such as weddings.

Something as seemingly innocuous as saying hello at a party comes with a strict set of social rules.

The tables below can help ease you through this process. Each table includes the transliteration of the introductory word or phrase on the left, with the word or words written in Japanese letters underneath. (Japanese letters are generally written in hiragana, which is the more widely used portion of the Japanese kana, or syllabary, having characters that are cursive.) The English translation is on the right.

Formal Introductions

In Japanese, there are several levels of formality. The expression, "nice to meet you," is spoken very differently depending on the social status of the recipient. Note that those of a higher social status requires a longer greeting. Greetings also become shorter as the formality decreases. The table below shows how to deliver this phrase in Japanese, depending on the level of formality and/or the status of the person you are greeting.

Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
Very formal expression
Used to a higher
Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.  
To a higher
Douzo yoroshiku.
To an equal
To a lower

Honorific "O" or "Go"

As in English, an honorific is a conventional word, title, or grammatical form that signals respect, politeness, or social deference.

An honorific is also known as a courtesy title or an address term. In Japanese, the honorific "o (お)" or "go (ご)" can be attached to the front of some nouns as a formal way of saying "your." It is very polite. 

someone else's country
someone else's name
someone else's job
someone else's field of study

There are some cases where "o" or "go" does not mean "your." In these cases, the honorific "o" makes the word more polite. You might expect that tea, which is very important in Japan, would require an honorific "o." But, even something as mundane as a toilet requires the honorific "o" as the table below illustrates.

tea (Japanese tea)

Addressing People

The title san—meaning Mr., Mrs., or Miss—is used for both male and female names, followed by either the family name or the given name. It is a respectful title, so you cannot attach it your own name or to the name of one of your family members.

For example, if a person's family name is Yamada, you would great him as Yamada-san, which would be the equivalent of saying, Mr. Yamada. If a young, single woman's name is Yoko, you would address her as Yoko-san, which translates into English as "Miss Yoko."