Sometimes, the simplest question is the hardest to answer.
People often ask me how to say “Hi” in Japanese, and when I answer that there is no such word, they seem confused. If you check the dictionary, you can find a few equivalent words in Japanese, such as やあ or ねえ, but none of them can be used in the same manner as their English counterpart.
We don’t have a convenient word like “Hi” that enables you to greet anyone, anywhere, in a casual way. In a Japanese marketing context, you should always address your customer in a very polite and formal way.
For example, many direct emails start in English with “Hi, (First name)”. If you use Machine Translation in this context, you are likely to encounter trouble in Japan because the word-to-word translation will sound rather rude (unless it’s in a gaming app where style is very informal). It needs to be well localized to fit Japanese customers, who are normally treated as “God.”
The initial greeting should just be “(First name) 様,” which consists of the customer name and an honorific suffix. Japanese shop/company to customer relationship is expected to be formal. If you want to sell your product, you’d better behave politely.
So, you don’t greet your customers with a casual version of “hello” nor address them just by their first name: you need to add some kind of suffix. Even if the customer is a child, you need an appropriate suffix, not honorific though, in accordance with their gender.
The phrase “customer 客” itself can be used to address the customer when it is accompanied by the honorific suffix, as in お客様 (actually, お is itself an honorific prefix, that’s a lot of honor!). This phrase is also commonly chosen in translation instead of “you” in the marketing context, because addressing the second person as “you” directly is not polite in Japanese (we can talk about this topic in a future blog article).
To summarize, you can see how the costumers expect to be treated in Japan:
お客様は神様です。(Customers are God.)