Keigo, polite Japanese: is it necesary to do business in Japan?

This one question I see debated a lot lately: you, as a foreigner, do you need or at least shall you use keigo when you do business in Japan / with Japanese people ?

From what I’ve seen, there seem to be two schools of thought, basically splitting evenly people who participate in these discussions:

-Yes, you need to use keigo when doing business.

Keigo and its formalities help reduce stress in a working environment.
Not being able to use it correctly may result in worsening your working evenironment.


Keigo is a must in many situations. If you do not use Keigo, it can cause (your business partner) confusion in understanding your idea of the relationship. My best advice would be to list up words that you would need and ignore words that you would not. (understand, you need to speak it as much as you can)

-No you don’t

In my opinion, foreigners do not need to speak keigo. They are not expected to speak keigo. Take it as an advantage of being a foreigner if you will (understand, if you are confident you can use some keigo, make it an advantage, but don’t overdo it). Sure, it is always better to understand it and know it but one can be respectful to others in non-keigo as well.


Keigo consists of “Sonkei-go,” “Kenjo-go,” and “Teinei-go.” As far as I am concerned, if you are good with “Teinei-go,” it’s enough. It may sound extreme, but NO Japanese can use proper Keigo, either… (same idea, as a foreigner, you’d easily be forgiven not to master Keigo, as most Japanese people struggle themselves).

What category do you fall into? And what are your arguments? Hopefully I will be able to update this post with your feedback!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *