When I first came to Japan, I accidentally applied for a job that, unknown to me, required a ‘native level of Japanese’. At that time, I was still struggling to make basic sentences, so I was ridiculously underqualified for the job. However, I didn’t want to get on the bad side of the company, as they often had work for proofreaders and writers.
I had to figure out a way to back out of the interview but also keeping a good relationship with this company.
I asked some Japanese people who work in accounting and marketing for their advice. After all, these were people who were used to getting the right balance with their customers. Of course, the various people I talked to had different answers, as is expected for a dynamic language like Japanese, but eventually, I managed to work out the common ideas that everyone could agree on.
Japanese people often like to start their apology emails with an ‘I’m terribly sorry, but…’ phrase. In Japanese this is often expressed as 残念ながら. You will see this phrase used in a lot of polite apologies such as 残念ながら出来ません (I’m sorry, but I am unable to do that) and 残念ながらそのようです (I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is).
In this case, because I was refusing their offer I also have to use a polite form of the verb 断る (To refuse). Most verbs can be made into their polite forms by adding an お before their -ます form. In this case, 断る becomes お断り.
However, お断り isn’t polite enough by itself. Instead, it is better to add a させていただく ending to it. させていただく (please allow me to~) is a really polite ending used in very formal occasions which most people encounter during self-introductions (自己紹介させていただきます- please allow me to make my self-introduction).
Therefore to make the verb 断る appropriately polite, it becomes お断りさせていただきたいと思います (I would very much like to refuse it).
Therefore an appropriate sentence would be: 残念ながらお断りさせていただきたいと思います (I’m sorry, but I would very much like to refuse it).
Another similar form that Japanese people are fond of is the ~かねます form. ~かねます can be tricky as it means ‘be unable to do’. As some people prefer to phrase their refusals positively this can be combined with the previous grammar point and the word 引き受ける (To accept) to make お引き受けいたしかねます (Unable to accept).
An example sentence for this situation would therefore be: 誠に申し訳ないのですが (I am incredibly sorry)、お引き受けいたしかねます (But I am unable to accept).
One extra thing that surprised me was that most of the people I talked to recommended that I add in a sentence wishing the company well. As social connections are valued in Japanese business, many of the people I spoke to thought that this added a nice sound to the refusal.
However, another problem reared its head at this point: how to refer to the recipient’s company.
Japanese people are generally fans of dropping the subject from polite conversation. Many Japanese will tell you that writing completely devoid of pronouns is the best way to write. Therefore instead of an awkward sentence like あなたの会社, most Japanese people prefer to refer to the other person’s company in polite language as 御社.
The recommended sentence was 御社のますますのご発展 (That your company continues to expand) をお祈り申し上げます (Would be my wish). Note the very polite verb 申し上げます (Say something to someone) is used to make the sentence extra polite.
So let’s have a look at all those polite forms again: