Business Culture in Japan
Updated: Sep 14, 2019
Doing business in Japan can be a social and cultural minefield. Here are some basic insights to help you navigate more smoothly.
The Art of Silence
A more nuanced, formal approach, especially at the start of a business relationship, is likely to be better received when doing business in Japan. The Japanese have several proverbs that emphasize the importance that they place on silence, such as, "The duck that quacks is the first to get shot." Take a cue from your Japanese counterparts and customize your approach.
While showing initiative and individualism is considered a quality in many countries it's considered good form, in Japan, to stick with your team. It's no coincidence that baseball and sports culture seeps into business etiquette on a daily basis. Towing the company line is considered standard and even though you may have your own thoughts on certain matters it's a corporate no-no to go against the grain.
Accept the card with both hands, briefly read it and place it in your business card holder if you are standing; if you are seated, place it on the table for the duration of the meeting and then place it in your business card holder. It's considered a faux pas to place business cards in your suit pocket or wallet. When presenting your business card, have the Japanese-printed side facing the person you are offering it to, and present your card with both hands. Even if you are sitting far away from the person in a group, don't throw or push the card across the table. Stand up and walk over to them.
Japanese society and business practice place a lot of emphasis on hierarchy. Age and corporate seniority (often the same thing) are a big deal. Allow your seniors to speak and sit at the most advantageous areas of the meeting table. Show respect by keeping and sharing individual opinions until more private and unofficial meetings. Age and management ranking is god in Japan. Know your place at the table.
Beers and going out for meals is crucial to many business deals in Japan. If invited out on the town by a client it's considered good form to go along. Even if you don't drink alcohol it's standard practice to eat and socialize and get to know your partners in an informal setting. There are certain social rules when dining with Japanese partners concerning sitting arrangements and so on. Allow the junior members of the Japanese staff to show you the way.
Business suits are essential in Japan. The only time of year when this is exempt is summer when "Cool Biz" kicks in. This means that salarymen aren't required to wear ties. Although dress trousers and business shirts (short-sleeves are ok) are necessary. Depending on your rank it's considered uncouth to be ostentatious - so if you're a junior or middle level ranking employee then leave your Savile Row or Italian designers at home. Go for something more sober and affordable. Managers and executives are exempt from this.
Read up on Social and Business Etiquette
It's best to learn from colleagues who have been to Japan in the past or read books such as "Etiquette Guide To Japan" by Boye Lafayette De Mente for a more comprehensive understanding.
For more insights and support with your business in Japan, contact us. New Frame KK.