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You Must Be Tired – How to Leave Work Gracefully

Who would have known that simply leaving work would be so tricky in Japan?

By 2 min read 3

At the end of a work day, most people simply want to leave and go home. However in Japan it is usually considered good manners to announce that you are leaving and the common phrase for this is お(さき)失礼(しつれい)します.

Most people encounter お先におさきに for the first time in the phrase お先にどうぞ, which is a polite way to invite someone to leave the elevator or go through a door before themselves. The other part of the sentence 失礼しますしつれいします has a meaning of ‘forgive me’. It is often used as a polite way to speak to someone you don’t know such as ちょっと失礼しますExcuse me for a moment.

The combination of these makes お(さき)失礼(しつれい)します which means ‘Please forgive me for leaving before you’, a phrase that speaks volumes about the Japanese attitude to work!

The reply from the other members of staff at your workplace to this phrase will likely either be ご苦労様(くろうさま)(です) or お(つか)(さま)(です).

Similar to お先に失礼します, these two phrases reveal some important information about the Japanese attitude towards work.

The first phrase is made up of the kanji for severity, work and honored person respectively, whereas the second phrase is made up of the kanji for tired and honored person. It can be difficult to work out which one you should use if your boss suddenly decides to leave the office first.

Luckily there is a simple rule. In Japan it is considered rude to comment on the work of a senior member of staff, so you will never hear Japanese people using ご苦労様ごくろうさま when talking to their boss.Therefore unless you are clearly senior in status to the other people in your office, you will probably never need to use ご苦労様. Instead, お疲れ様です should always be used when your boss is leaving before you.

Both phrases also contain the sama-kanji (様) which I wrote about in a previous post. This kanji is often used to show respect or honor towards the person you are talking to. Most learners come across this word when they go shopping and the sales staff refer to them as お客様おきゃくさま.

Naturally, it is important to show respect at work in Japan and you will always hear the 様-ending added to the end of the leaving phrases in Japanese.

There are exceptions, however, as one interesting thing about お(つか)(さま) is that you can drop the 様-ending to make it more casual. Anyone who has ever taken part in a sports team or a theater troupe will likely hear this more casual phrase after practice.

Be very careful about doing the same thing with ご苦労様 as ご苦労 literally means ‘hardship’ or ‘trouble’ such as in the phrase;

(ぼく)日本語(にほんご)苦労(くろう)してる (I have trouble with the Japanese language).

Despite how apt describing work as ‘hardship’ may seem on some days, it is best not to say it!

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  • Radha R Rao says:

    Is osakini shitsureishimasu said individually to all present or said once loudly to all together?

  • knighchr says:

    Please god help our country with overload in the office.

  • Alex says:

    Do you mean you can read hiragana? Because the furigana are there above the kanji that you can read. You can also try copying and pasting those words into an online dictionary, I like jisho.org. Making it an active process might also help you remember them better.

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