How do I address my friend?

Hello! It’s been a while since I used WK but I really need some help with this and thought I could ask here.

In 2015 I took part in an exchange program where I stayed with my exchange partner in Japan for a week and vice versa. Since then, we’ve been sending Christmas cards to each other every year and occasionally write over LINE so I wouldn’t consider us very close friends but not mere aquaintances either. This year I told her I’d write my card in Japanese (we usually write in english only) unknowing that letters and such are… quite the ordeal in japanese lol

My problem now is I’m not sure if I should use plain or polite form with her. My japanese is still not very good (I’d say I’m an advanced beginner or sth) and I’m worried about sounding very rude by using the plain form and だ etc… But writing an actual, formal letter with set expressions feels wayyy too formal. I just don’t have any experience with real life japanese usage yet :sweat:

For example:
using お元気?instead of お元気ですか as an opening phrase seems too casual but I don’t really know any other equivalent?


Does she use polite forms when talking with you over LINE? It can definitely be tricky but I think the easiest thing to do is to just match whatever the other person is using. Typically you start out on teineigo basis, and then sometimes if you get to know each other better the other person might start to use casual - and that’s your cue to start using it too.

If you want to use お元気ですか in casual, it would just be 元気? No need for the お in casual speech. (Note that this only applies to some words, there are some words like お金 where you pretty much always keep the honorific お).

Edit: sorry I just reread your post and noticed you said you mostly talk in English. I guess that makes it more tricky to know which form you should use. I think since you’re writing a letter it might be safer to stick to teineigo. Japanese people are usually understanding about this stuff if they know you’re still learning the language.

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I think your friend will understand perfectly that any odd choices you make re: the formality of a letter are well-intentioned mistakes, and not rudeness. Definitely get opinions on specific phrases from people here if you want, but no one will know the exact relationship you have with her, or her view about formality in written Japanese. I’d say do your best, and she can probably give you honest feedback about it after.

When I moved into my apartment in Japan, I tried to give a note in hiragana (all I knew at the time) and a small gift (a box of chocolates) to my new Japanese neighbor. I’m sure the note was weirdly written and full of mistakes. He was delighted that I tried, and he gave me a gift in return that was at least a $50 box of cakes from a nice department store. I learned years later that the thing I thought I had given him (a box of chocolates) was actually just an empty gift box sold in cheap stores for the purpose of opening up and putting chocolates into as a gift for someone else… but I didn’t want to open it and spoil the chocolate I thought was inside.

My point is that a friendly Japanese person is not judging our choices on the same scale as they would a native…


One of the many luxuries we have as 外人 is that we can be as rude as we like and it pass it off as “inexperience”.

I’m not advocating this behaviour, but… :eyes:

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Thanks for your reply! Based on this I think I’ll use the polite forms just to be sure… Hopefully I’ll be able to talk to her in Japanese in the future, then I won’t have the same problems with the next card! :joy:


You’re right about that! I just like to do things as well as I can but that does occasionally make me forget I don’t have to do them perfectly all the time… Thank you for the reminder!

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