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When simple messages and internet chats fail to express our appreciation, we turn to the traditional letter writing. But the western take on writing may not necessarily be applicable everywhere. Writing a Japanese letter may be difficult for first-timers, but here are things to know to make it a little bit easier.
Although for some, written letters slowly lose their relevance due to the alternative medium existing in the present context, some countries still put much significance to written letters, may it be formal or personal. For instance, in Japan, New Year cards called 年賀状 (nengajo) are still preferred to be sent through postal service. Also, Japanese people still express their gratitude through written letters. These thank you letters highlight the intimation of expressing gratitude for people who had done something. This is interesting to highlight such practice because, despite the prevailing progress in technology, cultural expressions of such kind remain.
Thank you letter or gratitude letters are usually written formally but can be done casually as well. It plays an important role in business and personal relations as it serves as a medium for expressing sincere gratitude towards something. Whether it be personal connections or professional opportunities, it is important to communicate one’s sense of appreciation. As sometimes present-day communication platforms fail to encapsulate messages of gratitude, hand-written letters could do the thing.
Unlike western letters, Japanese letters need to be in accordance with etiquette, formal when addressed to superiors and laxer when it is for close friends. Tegami is the Japanese term used to refer to letters. Writing a tegami necessarily involves proper etiquette that makes it may seem intimidating at first glance but nothing that practice can fix There is a notion for a Japanese letter as very formal or katai since it pays much significance on how the appropriate message is conveyed through its construction.
To have an adequate background in Japanese letter-writing, it is important to understand that tegami could be written vertically or horizontally. The way how a letter is written is upon the discretion of the writer though older people prefer to write vertically especially for formal messages.
Letters begin with an opening greeting called tōgo. Usually, a togo is delivered either a formal or informal approach and should be appropriate with the closing remark called ketsugo. For the formal opening greeting, 拝啓 Haikei is used with its supplement 敬具 Keigu for closing remarks. Meanwhile, an informal opening remark is usually a 前略 Zenryaku - omitting the preliminary remarks - with its supplement 草々 Sousou in closing remarks.
This is provided in the first line of the letter and serves the purpose of introducing the body of the tegami through a preamble referred to as zenbun. Each zenbun is composed of flowery remarks featuring the season or kisetsu when the letter was written. It has been a norm for the Japanese to include zenbun in writing formal letters. However, personal letters could be written without it.
Regardless of using a zenbun or not, the main purpose of a thank you letter could be outrightly expressed through writing “感謝の申し上げようもございません (Kansha no mōshiageyō mo gozaimasen)” or translated roughly in English as “There is no way for me to express my gratitude.” Writing this line immediately already provides the main intent of the letter. Moreover, it could be used as an introduction to the specific things that the writer wanted to express his/her gratitude. These specific matters should be put in the body of the letter as the writer continues to express his/her appreciation.
Other formal ways to express gratitude are the following:
_____________________, makoto ni arigatou gozaimashita.
Thank you truly for ________________________.
_________________, kokoro kara kansha itashite orimasu.
I am thankful from the bottom of my heart for __________________.
Aside from highlighting the main intent in every thank you letter, the writer should observe proper behavior in addressing the addressee with an appropriate endearment. Hierarchy plays a huge role in Japanese society, and this must be taken with much regard because it could offend the addressee if not done properly. The suitable endearment may be dependent upon the relation of the writer to the addressee. Normally, the most fundamental relationship of individuals in Japan is referred to as the senpai-kohai relationship. It governs the relationship of a teacher to a student, boss to an employee, or any similar relations.
Furthermore, thank you letters should be done directly and sincerely. The way the writer should compose their message must contain an elegant structure to avoid misunderstanding. The letter should be able to fully communicate the feelings of the writer contained in the body.
And to end the letter, wishing them good health, especially in reflection of the season and weather discussed in the zenryaku or the season to come is appropriate.
Over and above, writers should be able to write legibly to help the reader understand the letter. Handwritten letters such as thank you letters are valued as it implies a sincere expression of one’s feelings. Make sure that the way it was crafted must be neat and comprehensible. It is recommended to use black or blue pen in handwritten letters. Aside from the formality it insinuates, it also gives a clean impression to the reader.
Another thing worthy of consideration in writing a thank you letter is the refrain of using explicit statements. Explicit and simplistic statements such as “ありがとうございました(Arigatōgozaimashita)” or “Thank you” and “私はあなたに感謝しています。(Watashi wa anata ni kansha shiteimasu)” or “I would like to thank you” could be dismissive of your sincerity as it already provides an instant message to the addressee. It is important to maintain a passionate composition and extensive use of various Japanese expressions of gratitude. Exposing oneself to Japanese vocabulary can help to bring about the genuine feeling of gratefulness one is writing for.
Lastly, keep in mind that refraining from postscripts is a must for formal messages. Although it is permissible to use postscripts for personal or casual thank you letters, it should be constructed and placed accordingly.
Writing a tegami could be intimidating for some as it serves as an unconventional means to communicate a message. Because in Japan, letters are done formally, adhering to certain specifications and expectations, creating one could be unusual. However, if one is capable of following the good formatting strategies, observing proper endearment, and composing an eloquent letter in the Japanese way, it is assured that it would be valued as much as one expects it to be. At the end of the day, what matters for every letter is the message it conveys. For a thank you letter, the way the writer cherished that certain feeling of gratitude towards someone is the thing that we value.
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