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I think that there are a lot of societal influences with regard to how to begin addressing a Japanese man with his first names. Please put the societal issue aside and just consider the linguistics of this scenario.

  • Both the Japanese and American are speaking in Japanese.
  • Both the Japanese and American are men.
  • In formal and informal settings, a Japanese addresses me using my first name.
  • I address the Japanese using his last name.
  • During the first few weeks / months of getting to know him, he uses my first name and I use his last name. I can't remember how it happened, but I've been speaking to some Japanese men using their first names for awhile.
  • I prefer using his first name if I consider him a close friend and if he has no problem with it. But, in the presence of another Japanese person, I would never say his first name.

When I think the time is right (which is not this question), how would I express this thought in Japanese? The context is an American saying it to a Japanese.

Hey Tanaka-san. Is it cool If I start using your first names?

I would say something like

悪いけれども、これから、下のお名前を使わせて頂いても、宜しいんですか?

Is that ok? I am sure it sounds very unnatural, but even asking to use his first name is unnatural. So, what should I say?

By the way, my observations are that, even when best of buddies, Japanese men always address each other using last names. And, the norms for addressing Japanese women with first names are completely different.

  • Can you add an occupational context, do you mean both are business men or both are school colleagues or ... ? – virmaior Aug 30 '14 at 16:19
  • (I ask because I teach at a university and many of my colleagues mistakenly believe that since I'm a foreigner I want people I don't know to call me by my first name; the rules and treatment might be quite different depending on context). – virmaior Aug 30 '14 at 16:20
  • @virmaior All my friends began in a business context. It evolved to friendship. I prefer to just accept however Japanese treat me. I don't care. But, if anyone said I was not "acting Japanese", I'd take issue with that. I am not trying to be Japanese. Since I am non-Japanese, different rules apply and that is why I feel ok using a Japanese man's first name. If I were trying to "act Japanese", I would never, ever, use the first name of a Japanese man. – user312440 Aug 30 '14 at 17:08
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    I would not recommend doing it. Addressing someone using last name is perfectly normal unless you are family member and trying to force different way of addressing may lead to awkwardness instead of any improvement. – Rilakkuma Sep 1 '14 at 1:23
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    @Rilakkuma, while it's true that using last names is normal, and indeed expected in many settings; I believe that point went out of the window when the OP started to be addressed by his colleague/friend by his first name, provided that the OP isn't (clearly) younger than the other. I would ask that person "How about we both call each other by our first names? Or if you prefer, we could both use our last names?" 「よかったら、これから、お互いを下の名前で呼びましょうか?」「それとも、お互いを苗字{みょうじ}で呼んだほうがいいですか?」Just because double standards are often applied to foreigners doesn't mean you can't strive to avoid them. – Will Sep 1 '14 at 3:18
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How about:

([今度]{こんど}から)[下]{した}の[名前]{なまえ}で[呼]{よ}んでもいいですか。(a little casual)
下の(お)名前で呼ばせてもらってもいいですか。/[構]{かま}いませんか。(more polite)
下のお名前で呼ばせていただいてもいいでしょうか。/よろしいでしょうか。(even more polite)

etc...

  • It the situation requires "下のお名前で呼ばせていただいてもいいでしょうか。/よろしいでしょうか。" level of politeness, then you probably needn't ask the question as it won't be approrpiate – paullb Sep 2 '14 at 4:00
  • そうですねえ・・・日本人同士ならそうでしょうね。まあでも欧米人は大して親しくなくても下の名前で呼んできはりますんで、そんなもんかな~と思って受け入れてますゎ・・・ – user1016 Sep 2 '14 at 4:33
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Yours is good but the よろしいんですか part (which would mean "Are you saying you allow me to use your first name?") should be よろしいですか (though いいですか or よろしいでしょうか are better IMO).

That said, 下の名前で呼ぶのはどうでしょうか? is probablly closer to what you want to say.

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