Perhaps the most important phrase for you to learn as you begin to study Japanese is the phrase “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (よろしくお願いします).

This phrase has no good English translation, but it is used all the time in Japanese. You’ll literally be using this phrase every day if you decide to move to Japan. So in this article, we’ll break down this phrase so you know exactly what you’re saying and exactly when to say it. 

What Does “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu” Mean (Literally)?

Let’s start by breaking down the meaning. The first part comes from the word “yoroshii” (宜しい), which means “good, alright, very well.” It’s a more formal version of the word “yoi” (良い), also pronounced “ii,” which also means “good.” I’ve also heard “yoroshii” translated as “kind.”

Changing the “i” at the end to a “ku” makes “yoroshiku” an adverb. This changes the meaning to something like “well.” As in the English adverb “well.”

The second part of this phrase is not as complicated as you might think. The main verb used is “negau” (願う), which means “to request, to implore.” It’s a pretty formal way to say “to ask.” It can also mean “to hope,” which also comes into different translations of the phrase. 

The verb is put into a grammar structure that makes it super humble and polite, “o-____shimasu,” with the blank being filled by whatever verb you want to use. This doesn’t really change the meaning, just the politeness level. You could translate “onegaishimasu” as “I humbly request,” or even just “Please.” 

So if you put those two together, you get a literal translation of “I humbly request well,” or, to oversimplify it, “Please kindly.” That doesn’t make too much sense.

What Does “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu” Mean (Not Literally)?

Let’s look now at what it actually means in the context it is used in Japanese. 

The basic use of this phrase is during an introduction or first-time meeting with someone. After you introduce yourself or are introduced to someone, you will say “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” If you do so, I promise the Japanese people around you will be really impressed. 

The phrase in this context is usually translated as something like “Please treat me kindly,” or “I hope that our future relations go well.” Basically, you’re putting out your desire for this relationship to work.

It’s also good practice to use this phrase at the end of a self-introduction (jiko shoukai: 自己紹介). In my experience, when someone says this phrase, it’s polite to respond by repeating it, even if they’re speaking to the group, and not directly at you. 

Self-introduction じこしょうかい [Jikoshoukai] 

I’ve also heard this phrase used as a way to indirectly ask someone to do something. In my head, I usually translate it as meaning “Would you kindly?” when it’s used like this. 

This phrase is definitely on the formal side, and if you want to make it more casual (in case you’re being introduced to a friend of a friend who is very much the same age as you), you can shorten it to “Yoroshiku.” 

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What Does It Say About Japanese Culture?

To me, this phrase says a lot about Japanese culture. It’s a phrase that is: 1) very formal, and 2) vague. 

Even compared to normal formal speaking, this phrase is very humble and very polite. This is the kind of language you use when talking to royalty in Japanese. But that formality shows that it’s really important in Japanese to show respect to people and make a good impression. 

The vagueness of the phrase is also something I find very Japanese. I’ve written before on how indirect the Japanese language is, and you definitely see it here. When you use this phrase, you don’t say anything about what you want or expectations you have. It’s all baked into the context of where and how you meet someone. Obviously, your expectations when meeting a new business partner will be different than when meeting your child’s teacher. 

This phrase is easily the one I consider most important for someone learning Japanese to learn. There are a lot of other important phrases for beginners, but this is one of the few that is so distinctly Japanese we can’t even translate it into English. 

Adding this phrase to your vocabulary will not only be impressive, it will help you start off all new relationships with Japanese speakers well. 

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