Japanese Requests

Request Segments

Just as in other languages or language varieties found in the Cross-Cultural Study of Speech Act Realization Patterns (CCSARP) project (Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989), Japanese requests consist of:

Head Act - the nucleus of the speech act or the part that functions to realize the act independently

kashite itadake masende syouka? ‘would you mind lending it to me?’

Supportive Move - modifications that precede or follow the Head Act and affect the context in which the actual act is embedded.

Moshi otemotoni arimashitara
‘if you have it at hand’

Head Act

Below is the relative ranking of politeness of request forms both in Japanese and English (Hill et al., 1986):

1 – when being least polite/uninhibited
5 – when being most polite/careful of your speech

Chart form Hill et al. (1986), p. 355.

Request forms and interlocutor categories in Japanese

Chart form Hill et al. (1986), p. 357.

[ Other categorizations of request strategy types... ]

Supportive Moves

Some supportive moves precede the actual request (Head Act) and imply that the request is on its way and thus mentally prepare the recipient of the request, and/or provide explanation or justification of the upcoming request. Other supportive moves follow the Head Act and reinforce the request and/or express appreciation for fulfilling the request (Mizuno, 1996a). Below are some of the categories in Japanese requests (pp. 94-95):


Attempt to remove or reduce the hearer’s burden by limiting the request, providing certain conditions, or guaranteeing that the imposition will not be increased in the future:

issyuukan dakede iidesukara ‘Only one week will do’

Getting a precommitment

Attempt to get a pre-commital:

jitsuwa cyotto onegaiga arundesukedo ‘Actually I have a small favor’

Cost Minimizer

Indication of consideration of the burden to the recipient of the request while fulfilling the request:

moshi gomeiwakude nakereba ‘if it’s not too much trouble’


Recognition of the imposition:

waruine, gomenne isogashiinoni ‘I feel bad, I’m sorry when you are busy’


Reinforcement of the request:

nantoka onegai dekimasendesyouka ‘Could I please ask you [to fulfill the request] somehow’


Reward for the realization of the request:

kondo ohiru ogorukara
‘I’ll buy you lunch next time’


Expression of appreciation:

arigatou gozaimasu, tasukarimasu ‘Thank you, that will be helpful’


Reasons for the request:

mou syuppan sarete naimitaide
‘it seems out of print now’

Above passages from Mizuno (1996a), pp. 94-95.

Request Perspectives

(Mizuno, 1996b)

Similar to the situation with other languages (CCSARP project -- Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989), Japanese requests can also be classified according to the perspective each request takes. By using the requester-oriented verb, morau ‘to receive,’ the speaker emphasizes the role of the speaker ( Mizuwo morae masuka? ‘Could I get some water?’). On the other hand, the use of the hearer-oriented verb, kureru ‘to give, or to let ~ have’, may stress the role of the hearer ( Mizuwo kuremasuka? ‘Could you give me some water?’).

Requests in Japanese employ multiple perspectives as they are represented by the verb (e.g., kasu, ‘lend’ or kariru ‘borrow’) and the honorific language. The use of honorifics, such as the hearer-oriented auxiliary verbs, kureru and kudasaru, and the speaker oriented morau and itadaku, implies the speaker’s varying degree of deference.

The hearer-oriented verb, kasu, might be slightly more often used than the speaker-oriented verb, kariru in all the situations regardless of the status or closeness of the interlocutors. However, some combinations of these verbs with honorifics auxiliary verbs are possible and almost equally common. For example,

Hearer-oriented verb kasu + Speaker-oriented auxiliary, morau or itadaku:

Konohonwo kashite morae masuka?

konohonwo kashite itadake masuka? (more polite)

Hearer-oriented verb kasu + Hear-oriented auxiliary, kureru or kudasaru:

Konohonwo kashite kure masuka?

konohonwo kashite kudasai masuka?
(more polite)

Above passages from Mizuno (1996b), pp. 66-68.


The use of alerters (attention-getters) in Japanese plays an important role in getting the attention of the hearer and in preparing him/her for the upcoming request. One or more alerters tend to be used by native speakers in most request situations. Alerters are normally uttered casually for minor requests but prolonged with pauses for more serious major requests. Below are some of the most commonly used alerters:


Sumimasen(ga) ‘excuse me’

Ano(u) ‘um’

Shiturei shimasu/shitureidesuga ‘Excuse me’

...san (the name or title of the hearer) "Mr./Ms....’

greeting such as konnichiwa ‘hello’


Above passages from Kashiwazaki (1993), p. 56.

Variability of Requests

Japanese speakers would tend to vary their choice of request strategies according to their relative status in relation to the recipient of the request rather than the severity of imposition – behavior that has been referred to as "person-oriented" communication style (Mizutani, 1985). For instance, in interacting with those of lower status, a speaker tends to use fairly direct request strategy types, while the speaker may prefer much less direct strategies in speaking to those of higher status than him/herself. Whereas the relative status of the interlocutors often has an impact on the language use, the severity of imposition may have little impact on the directness of the request. For instance, a request in close or intimate relationship in Japanese tends to be casual (e.g., Okaasan, ocha! ‘Mom, [make me] some tea!’; Rinnert, 1999) to show intimacy, which would probably be viewed as rude or unrefined in English. However, in Japanese, a formal expression like Ochawo kuremasenka? ‘Wouldn’t you give me some tea?’ or Sumimasenga ochawo itadake masendesyouka? ‘I’d hate to bother you but couldn’t I receive the favor of your giving me some tea?’ would be considered inappropriate in a close or intimate relationship. A minor request is not usually given in a formal expression to a family member or close friend unless the speaker is being sarcastic.

This is in contrast to a more "situation-oriented" style (Mizutani, 1985) as in American English where speakers are likely to vary their politeness level depending on the situation and the severity of the imposition. An American request at a dinner table would likely be Can/could you pass me the salt? In English, formal requests are often delivered politely with some sort of mitigation or politeness markers even in a close relationship.



Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Norwood, NJ: Alblex Publishing Corporation.

Hill, B., Ide, S., Ikuta, S., Kawasaki, A., & Ogino, T. (1986). Universals of linguistic politeness: Quantitative Evidence from Japanese and American English. Journal of Pragmatics, 10, 347-371.

Kashiwazaki, H. (1993). Hanashikake koudouno danwabunseki: Irai youkyuu hyougenwo cyuushinni [Discourse analysis of requests with phatic communication]. Nihongo Kyouiku [Journal of Japanese Language Teaching], 79, 53-63.

Mizuno, K. (1996a). ‘Irai’ no gengo koudouniokeru cyukangengo goyouron: Cyugokujin nihongo gakusyusya no baai [Interlanguage pragmatics in the speech act of request: The case of Chinese learners of Japanese]. Gengobunka Ronsyu 17(2), 91-106.

Mizuno, K. (1996b). ‘Irai’ no gengo koudouniokeru cyukangengo goyouron (2): Directness to perspective no kantenkara [Interlanguage pragmatics in the speech act of request: Directness and perspectives]. Gengobunka Ronsyu 18(1), 57-71.

Mizutani, N. (1985). Nichi-ei Hikaku: Hanashi Kotoba no Bumpoo [Comparison of Japanese and English Spoken Languages]. Tokyo: Kuroshio Shuppan.

Rinnert, C. (1999). Appropriate requests in Japanese and English: A preliminary study. Hiroshima Journal of International Studies, 5.



<< Return to Requests

See Additional research >>

CARLA Mailing List Signup Contact CARLA CARLA Events Donate to CARLA CARLA on Facebook CARLA on YouTube Twitter
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414