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Yoroshiku: It Defies Definition

Yoroshiku is one of those magical multi-purpose Japanese phrases that has flexibility to fit countless situations and that smoothes social interactions wherever it's used. Hardly a day goes by in Japan that you don't hear it said repeatedly. But how to translate it? - That's the conundrum.

At first blush it can sound similar to "regards," such as "Best regards" at the end of an email and "Please give so-and-so my regards." In English this implies one's own respect or esteem for the other person. In the Japanese concept, however, to assume you are in a position to bestow your esteem on another would seem highly presumptuous!

The important concept behind yoroshiku and what is missing in most translations, is the inherent element of humility. So a better interpretation of the expressions above would be something akin to, "Kindly bestow your best regard on me," or "Please grant your favor to me," and "Please ask so-and-so to think on me kindly."

So the first problem is, in similar situations, we would often say something with the entirely reverse sentiment. The second challenge is that its very versatility makes its meaning fluidly conform to the occasion. And subject is almost always implied and not actually said or written and, therefore, must be deduced by the context. These all mean that finding the right words in English require some skillful verbal gymnastics.

Here are some examples:

  • "We are going to be lecturing on theory for the first hour, but then we would like volunteers to role play situations after that, so yoroshiku onegai itashimasu*." (We'd like to ask for your attention and cooperation.)
  • "In this meeting, we'd like to discuss the ways our two companies might work together, so yoroshiku onegai shimasu." (Please think of us favorably.)
  • "Here are the documents you said you would translate. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu." (Thank you in advance for doing this for me.)
  • "It's your turn to do the money collection so yoroshiku." (We're counting on you.)
  • "We'll all need to work hard to get this done in time. Yoroshiku." (Sorry to ask this of you, but I'm counting on everyone's full effort.)
  • "I wanted to let you know I'll be a little late. Yoroshiku. (I'm indebted to you for your understanding.)
  • "We'll meet at 5:00 then.Yoroshiku." (Thanks.)
  • You're joining a new group: "Yoroshiku onegai shimasu." (Please help and guide me when I need it.)
  • You're meeting an important person for the first time: "Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu." (Please bestow your kind regard on me.)

The hard part is trying to translate this squirmy phrase. The easy part is that you can use it for so many things! And if someone says it to you, most of the time protocol requires that you say it back to them (matching their bow), unless they are clearly asking a favor, to which you can simply reply "I understand" or "Not at all."

But the important thing to remember is that, as a humble phrase, it softens the interaction and elicits good feelings from others. It's an exquisite short-hand remark that conveys your acceptance of the indebtedness of all relationships.

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu!

by Diana Rowland, author Japanese Busines: Rules of Engagement


* There are different levels of formality one needs to pay attention to:

Yoroshiku - very informal, used with underlings and good friends.

Douzo yoroshiku - less informal, used with colleagues

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu - more formal, used for someone higher up or when you are in doubt of which level to use.

Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu - very formal/humble, used with clients and important people.

Yoroshiku mooshi agemasu - exceedingly formal/humble, sometimes used in New Year's greeting cards.

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