Letters, emails, and the Japanese weather

At WeDoJapan we are often asked to help translate business letters and emails, or to communicate with Japanese companies on behalf of our UK clients.

But while we in the West might think our short, to-the-point missives are efficient, they can seem abrupt and clinical to the Japanese. Luckily, there is a way to create an atmosphere of friendliness and shared experience with Japanese in your casual or business correspondence, and that is by referencing the weather and seasons. For example, formal letters may begin or end with set phrases referring to the seasons. Even relatively casual email correspondence can benefit from a mention of the weather.

Haiku vs Email

Enjoying cherry blossom in Tokyo

As I write this blog it is April. Finally there’s been a break in the cold (寒の明 kan no ake) and there are signs of spring (春めく haru meku). These are not simply translations of spring conditions common to the UK and Japan, but examples of the “kigo” season words that underpin Japanese classical poetry, including haiku. This highly-complex seasonal terminology is not limited to the weather; it also includes the names of flora and fauna, and seasonal observances or activities.

This ancient fascination with the seasons can even be found in ordinarily dry world of business correspondence. Here is an example of a set greeting that might be used in a formal business letter.

For example, 新緑のみぎり、[name ]様におかれましては益々ご清祥のことと存じます。(At the time of fresh green foilage, I hope that this letter finds [name] both healthy and prosperous.)

Rather more relaxed (!) are the below phrases that could work in a less formal letter or email.

Spring すっかり春らしい暖かい季節となりました。(The season has become very springlike)

Rice in summer

Summer 残暑が続いておりますが、いかがお過ごでしょうか。(The summer heat lingers, how do you fare?)

Autumn 紅葉の季節を迎えましたが、いかがお過ごでしょうか。(We have come to the season of autumn leaves, how do you fare?)

Winter 寒さが続いておりますが、いかがお過ごでしょうか。(The cold weather continues, how do you fare?)

Bridging the cultural gap

Lastly, if you are writing in English (or even Japanese) to a Japanese person by email, even just a sprinkling of words about the weather can be a handy way to bridge the cultural gap and build relationships.

Autumn leaves in North Japan

Happily, talking about the weather is something we Brits already excel at. According to social anthropologist Kate Fox, “weather talk is a kind of code that we have evolved to help us overcome social inhibitions and actually talk to one another”. Something the Japanese have in common with us, perhaps?

A little seasonal banter goes a long way… in Japan as well as the UK.

Contact WeDoJapan for a chat about how our translation and transcreation services can help your business. +44 (0)1373 301853 or [email protected] We’d love to hear from you. 

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