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The Various Degrees of Politeness

A short example of the various levels of politeness

One important part of learning about the Japanese language AND culture is understanding and balancing the intricate (and many) levels of polite – normal – and rude speech.

To take a look at this, let’s begin with a fairly unimaginative scenario.  You are confronted with your respected English loving Japanese boss who is up to his old tricks again. He refuses to speak to you in Japanese, only in English.  He is higher up in the rankings so you decide to should show him some respect and impress him with your skills at keigo! (polite speech)

GOAL:  Get your Japanese boss to speak nihongo & NOT English…  

Plan A:

YOU: あの、恐れ入りますが、ちょっと日本語でお話になっていただけませんでしょうか?
ano, osore irimasu ga chotto nihongo de o hanashi ni natte itadakemasen deshou ka?

“Uhmm… I am very sorry to have bothered you, but if perhaps you don’t mind and it isn’t too terribly hard on your brain cells, I’d like to ask you to speak in Japanese, that is, if you don’t mind.”  

RESPONSE: He says 「上手」 jouzu (very skillful) and continues his conversation in badly garbled English.   

Plan B:

YOU: 申し訳ありませんが、日本語で言ってもらえませんか?
moushi wake arimasen ga, nihongo de itte moraemasen ka?

I am terribly sorry and I have no excuses, but can’t my humble self receive some Japanese from you O great boss?  

RESPONSE: He gives a distinct うん un and begins in Japanese only to quickly regress to a somewhat understandable English. 

Plan C:


eeto… nihongo de hanashite kudasai.

Ummm…  Please speak
in Japanese.


He Ignores you.   Coffee
cup in hand, your boss is polishing his English
while you sit there at a loss for words.  Your mission is
coming to a close and you have yet to accomplish even an inch of
your goal.  What do you do?

  Tired of playing
games, you decide to hit him where it counts!!

Plan D: The final insult…

nihongo wo hanase!

Speak Japanese!  


He stops speaking English and

Japanese and promptly fires you.  You go off to find a job
with a boss who will speak only Japanese. 

Enjoy & Happy Sharing!




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