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Just wanted to say thanks for those using "-san" in emails.

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In Japan, it's common to place "-san" after the email recipient's name, which is just another way of referring to the individual politely in Japanese, like Mr./Ms. If you are emailing a customer, the "-san" changes to "-sama", which is considered more polite.

But outside Japan, this "-san" applies mostly when you are emailing Japanese. I thought it was interesting to note that depending on the country and corporate, you don't have to necessary add "-san" in emails.

Country difference.

In US, from my experience, "-san" is added to the first name and not the last. If a Taro Suzuki sends email to John in the states, he will write "Hi John-san" and most possibly gets a reply back with "Hi Taro-san" (or just Taro).

In Europe, I mostly experienced "-san" added to the last name.

In APAC, same as in Europe, "-san" was added to last name quite often. If a Taro Suzuki sends email to Chang in Singapore, he will write "Dear Chang-san" and in return will receive response saying "Hello Suzuki-san". A lot of times, I got request saying they want to be called by their middle name since there are lots of similar last names.

In Japan, if you are a Japanese emailing Japanese co-workers, it's a must to add "-san" on the last name otherwise you are considered either rude or lacking common sense. But what if a Japanese contacts another Japanese working outside the country and when non-Japanese speakers are on the CC list?

Since the conversation must take place in English in order to share the information, I emailed my manager in English without "-san". It turned out to be a surprise for me that he did not say a word about me not adding "-san" but maybe he didn't like it. If the language was in Japanese, there would have been consequences.

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Corporate difference

If it's a Japanese company worldwide, most probably non-Japanese speakers will add "-san" for Japanese.

If it's a non-domestic company with an office in Japan, possibly non-Japanese speaker may not add "-san" for Japanese.

Depending on which country the head quarter is located in and its market size, the proportion of how many "-san" may differ.

 

What do you think of "-san"?

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I've asked several of my colleagues for the reason of using "-san" They were kind enough to come up with the following feedback:

Thanks to those who replied. Well, the most feedback I got was: Why do Japanese take the extra time to add "-san"? I totally agree but I wasn't much aware of it until now.

 

Tried getting rid of "-san"

So, why not remove "-san"? I've started removing "-san" when I emailed my colleagues abroad and guess what? They started removing "-san" from my name as well. I thought it was really nice of them that they spend the extra time to add "-san" for every emails they wrote to me.

 

If you really want to be polite

I guess using Dear Sir/Madam (or Mr./Ms.) on their last name will be polite enough. I once had a chance to send my resume and cover letter to the HR head who I have never met or spoken with. The above way is how I sent her the email. However if the conversation continues and if I persist to place Sir/Madam on each email, usually I get a response saying to quit using it and call me by my first name.

I figure people don't deal often with Sir/Madam.

 

Lastly

Now, I try my best not to add "-san" as much as possible in order to avoid giving the recipients the impression that I may be forcing them for a reply back with "-san". Well, you might think who cares…

Depending on the country or the company you work for, the impression people have for "-san" may differ so it's probably up to you to decide where to use  "-san".

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ABOUT ME

Hi I'm KoReKuRai, which means 'About this much' in Japanese. Living in Kanagawa prefecture located near Tokyo, Japan. I'm an IT engineer working mostly at non-domestic companies for over 12 years, now spending much time with my 2 year old son. This blog is all about business work style, job transfer, interview, travel, business trips, site development, programming, childcare, health from a Japanese perspective. Ignore my Japanese English and hope you feel interested. You can contact me at here. Thanks for your attention.

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