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One can never be too polite, especially in business environment

Cushion Words: Useful Japanese Expressions for Introducing Awkward Topics

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 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.

1. 恐れ入りますが

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.

恐れ入りますが、こちらの書類を確認していただけますか。
osore irimasu ga, kochira no shorui wo kakunin shite itadakemasu ka
“I am sorry, but would you check these documents for me?”

2. 申し訳ございませんが

Moushiwake  gozaimasen ga is a very polite form of apology and literally means “I have no excuse”!

申し訳ございませんが、来週の会議へは出席しかねます。
moushiwake gozaimasen ga, raishuu no kaigi e wa shusseki shikanemasu
“I am terribly sorry, but I am unable attend next week’s meeting.”

3. もしよろしければ

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.

もしよろしければ、こちらの椅子をお使いください。
moshi yoroshikereba, kochira no isu wo otsukai kudasai
“If you don’t mind, how about using this chair?”

4. 失礼ですが

Shitsurei desu ga is the equivalent of “Excuse me, but…” and is used to avoid giving offense.

失礼ですが, どちら様でしょうか。
shitsurei desu ga, dochira sama deshou ka
“Excuse me, but could I ask who you are?”

5. 差し支えなければ

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.

差し支えなければ、この後お時間をいただけないでしょうか。
sashitsukae nakereba, kono ato ojikan wo itadakenai deshou ka
“If it’s not inconvenient for you, could I have some of your time later?” 

6. お忙しいところ恐縮ですが

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.

お忙しいところ恐縮ですが、説明書をお送りいただけますでしょうか。
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?” 

7. お手数ですが

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.

お手数ですが、資料をコピーしていただけますか。
otesuu desu ga, shiryou wo kopii shite itadakemasu ka
“I am sorry to bother you, but could you copy the documents for me?”

Michael Lambe

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