The Japanese language has many useful expressions that can be used to make otherwise awkward topics less blunt. In Japanese these are called クッション言葉 (kusshon kotoba) which literally means “cushion words”.
The name is appropriate as these phrases have a softening effect when giving bad news, making a request, or apologizing. Here are some common cushion words that can be usefully employed in the Japanese office environment.
Osore irimasu ga means “I am sorry, but…” and is used before asking somebody to do something for you. This is an expression of humility, and so is commonly used when addressing a superior.
osore irimasu ga, kochira no shorui wo kakunin shite itadakemasu ka
“I am sorry, but would you check these documents for me?”
Moushiwake gozaimasen ga is a very polite form of apology and literally means “I have no excuse”!
moushiwake gozaimasen ga, raishuu no kaigi e wa shusseki shikanemasu
“I am terribly sorry, but I am unable attend next week’s meeting.”
Moshi yoroshikereba is used for suggestions and literally means, “If it is good for you…” Although, it is still formal and polite, this phrase has a friendly tone and is used to set people at their ease.
moshi yoroshikereba, kochira no isu wo otsukai kudasai
“If you don’t mind, how about using this chair?”
Shitsurei desu ga is the equivalent of “Excuse me, but…” and is used to avoid giving offense.
shitsurei desu ga, dochira sama deshou ka
“Excuse me, but could I ask who you are?”
Sashitsukae nakereba can be used in a variety of situations, but basically means “If it is no problem for you…” The word “sashitsukae” literally means “hindrance” and by using this expression you are letting your colleague know that you do not wish to hinder them in their work.
sashitsukae nakereba, kono ato ojikan wo itadakenai deshou ka
“If it’s not inconvenient for you, could I have some of your time later?”
Oisogashii tokoro kyoushuku desu ga means “I’m sorry to bother you when you are so busy, but…”
This is a rather long preamble, but sometimes it is important to acknowledge that your coworkers are busy and they may be doing you a big favor by helping you out.
oishogashii tokoro kyoushuku desu ga, setsumeisho wo ookuri itadakemasu deshou ka
“I’m sorry to bother you when you are so busy, but could you possibly send me the instructions?”
Otesuu desu ga is a handy little expression that is used when making a request.
Literally it means “It is a bother, but…”, and it is a simple acknowledgment that your request may be somewhat troublesome.
otesuu desu ga, shiryou wo kopii shite itadakemasu ka
“I am sorry to bother you, but could you copy the documents for me?”