A Study in Keigo from Hanzawa Naoki

A Study in Keigo from Hanzawa Naoki


*Note: May contain small spoilers for those who haven’t seen the show. No major plot points are revealed.

Many of you have probably watched the show Hanzawa Naoki. It was a huge hit in Japan last fall; just under half of the country was watching the final episode. If you haven’t seen it, well, you should. It is an excellent resource for understanding the nitty-gritty of Japanese business culture. But that is not what I am going to talk about today.

Hanzawa Naoki is an excellent display of how different levels of 敬語 and 丁寧語 work in practice.

①半沢と同期 (Kondo & Tomari)

When Hanzawa is talking to the guys who joined the company at the same time he did (his buddies), he doesn’t use any formal language. He doesn’t put -さん on their names. He calls them by their last names only. He uses informal language with them.

When we learn Japanese, we are taught that everyone who is not a -ちゃん or a -くん is addressed as -さん. However, that is not true. With people on the same level as you or (as we will show later) people lower on the chain than you, it is perfectly acceptable to call them by their last name only. There is a scene where Kondo puts the smack down on his subordinate who had been acting like his boss. Kondo had been addressing him politely by his title and all of a sudden he shouts, “Oi, Noda!” This gets the guys attention. It says, “I have been trying to be polite to you, but don’t you forget that I am still your boss.”


The branch manager, Asano, is Hanzawa’s first rival. Also, the first person he threatens. Technically, Asano is two steps above Hanzawa and therefore Hanzawa speaks in fluent Keigo to him. However, he is only paying lip service. His tone betrays his true feelings.

In a TV show, this is all well and good as it creates added drama. Hanzawa sticks it to the man with every beautiful line of Keigo. But we, as non-native speakers, need to be careful not to do the same. No matter what you may think of Keigo, it all comes down to respect. You must try to show sincere respect to your superiors. I found this quote in the ビジネス能力検定3級 book that I have mentioned in previous posts.

「相手を敬う気持ちを持ってのぞむことが大切で、この気持ちがこもっていれば、多少使い方がおかしくても不快感を与えることは少ないものです。反対に、敬う気持ちのないまま、口先だけで丁寧なことばを使っても、相手にそらぞらしい感じをもたせるだけです。むずかしいのは敬語そのものではなく、この相手への尊敬や感謝の気持ちのもち方なのです。」-2012年版, pg. 64

Even if you can’t master Keigo (and trust me, there are many native speakers who never do), what’s important is that you show respect in the way you speak. But I would encourage you all to try and master Keigo as much as you can because I feel that it is something that many Japanese don’t expect from foreigners. Especially as interpreters, we need to aim to exceed those expectations.

③頭取⇒Everyone else

There is no one in the show higher than the bank president and that being the case, he almost never uses Keigo. He speaks informally to almost everyone under him. Must be nice to be the boss.


The only time we hear the president speaking formally, it is on the phone to Kurosaki, when he finds out his bank is about to be audited. Within the company, only the company organization chart matters. But even the highest person in a company must be ready to kowtow to an outsider who holds their company’s future in their hands. This goes for customers too. Even if the customer is lower on his company’s food chain than the president of the bank, the president will almost always address him formally and may even use Keigo to him.

When deciding whether or not to use Keigo, think of the following things:

1) Have I met this person before?

    – First impressions are important and almost always require more formal language.

2) Is the person part of my group (company, school, etc) or an outsider?

    – An outsider (customer, employee of another company, student from another class) will always be addressed formally.

3) Is the person higher on the food chain than me?

    – This one probably goes without saying. Respect your higher ups.