29 Useful Japanese Keigo Phrases to help you out at Work

Last Updated on 12.08.2021 by Coto Japanese Language School

Speaking Japanese Keigo in Japan

Keigo for Beginners
As a Foreigner…
Quick List of 29 Keigo Words/Phrases
When you first start studying Japanese it’s very easy to learn the basics of hiragana and katakana right away. With the right Japanese language courses, it’s not hard to get to a conversational level in a relatively short period of time.
However if you want to work in Japan you will need to learn a whole new language form called kiego. Often called ‘Honorific speech in Japanese’, keigo is language that is designed to show respect. Their use is mandatory in many social situations such as in a professional setting.

If the thought of learning a whole new style of speaking Japanese sounds scary then you are not alone. Memorizing keigo is a challenge for even Japanese people so it’s good to know that we’re all in the same position. Very often, Japanese people will not learn keigo in school, but during intensive training sessions before they start their first job.

Japanese Keigo for Beginners

You will probably first learn the plain verb forms before eventually moving onto the polite level (丁寧/ていねい). This consists of the stem of a verb and what is called the ます form:
Example: To see: る becomes ます.
When you start to have a good command of Japanese, you will realize that politeness in Japanese is of great importance when dealing with elders or working in a professional environment. You will learn to adjust your speech depending on whether you have a certain intimacy with someone, or to emphasize the social rank disparity if you are in a higher position.
Keigo covers both humble (謙譲語) and polite (尊敬語) speaking style with various levels of vocabulary and expressions with written Japanese offering even more complexity.

If you are looking to work in Japan, learning Japanese Business Keigo is one way to increase your chances to find employment and to establish a good relationship with your colleagues.

Speaking Keigo As a Foreigner…

While native speakers are expected to use proper Keigo (and if they do not, they are seen as unprofessional and will be frowned upon), the same is not always true for non-native speakers. Foreigners are often forgiven for their misuse of keigo and are excused for not having a good command of that high level of Japanese.
That being said, you should do your best to try and learn Japanese Keigo. And the best way to master the Japanese honorific is to learn slowly but surely all the in’s and out’s of respectful speech.
The first step is understanding that some kanji readings and some words are different depending on if you are casual or polite. The easiest example is the word “tomorrow”. You’ll learn 明日 is read あした but, as you progress in your Japanese studies, you’ll quickly encounter the reading あす.
Studious student: 先生! Why 明日’s kanji are read as あす here? What does it mean?
Trapped teacher: Well, あす is another way to say tomorrow in Japanese. You should use あす in a formal context, for example at work.
Another studious student pops out: 先生! I have read 明日’s kanji as みょうにち. Isn’t it the formal word for tomorrow?
Trapped teacher: Well, it also means tomorrow in a formal context…

As you can see, Keigo is almost like a whole other language, so it may require some extra learning effort.  Very few foreigners take the time to learn Keigo so doing so will greatly increase your professional options in Japan.

Quick List of 29 Keigo Words/Phrases

Casual Japanese Appropriate Keigo words for work
Tomorrow: 明日(あした) 明日(あす)
After tomorrow: 明後日(あさって) 明後日(みょうごにち)
Last night: 昨日の夜 昨夜 (さくや)
Tomorrow morning: 明日の朝 明朝 (みょうちょう)
From tomorrow: 明日以降 後日 (ごじつ)
This year: 今年 本年 (ほんねん)
The other day: この間 先日 (せんじつ)
On that day: その日 当日 (とうじつ)
Last year: 去年(きょねん) 去年(さくねん)
Year before last: 一昨年(おととし) 一昨年(いっさくねん)
Soon, shortly: もうすぐ まもなく
Now: いま ただいま
Earlier: 前に 以前 (いぜん)
Later: あとで 後ほど (あとほど)
Immediately: すぐに さっそく
This time, now: 今度 このたび
Just now: さっき 先ほど (さきほど)
Where: どこ どちら
This way: こっち こちら
That way: あっち あちら
Over there: そっち そちら
Which one: どっち どちら
Just a minute: ちょっと 少々 (しょうしょう)
Very, terribly:とても 大変 (たいへん)
Very, greatly: すごく 非常に (ひじょうに)
How many, how much:どのくらい いかほど
A few, a little: 少し 些少(さしょう)
Considerable: 多い 多大 (ただい)
About, approximately: ~ぐらい ~ほど

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