Japan’s business customs are different and strict. Business practices that worked in other countries might not work here. Compared to American or Western cultures, Japanese business protocol, behaviors, gestures, gesticulations, greetings, and etiquette are very different. Even while the issue of language barriers is a huge obstacle, other differences could pose an equally daunting challenge.
Japanese business etiquette and behaviors are defined and rigorously followed in business as well as in social settings. A person’s manners and etiquette are more important indicators of their character than their social accomplishments.
TOP 10 TIPS FOR DOING BUSINESS IN JAPAN 2024
FOLLOW THE PRACTICE OF BOWING
It’s common to avoid making physical contact when greeting someone in Japan. When addressing someone, a bow is the most common gesture instead of a handshake, hug, or kiss. Bows are used in a variety of situations, such as greeting or bidding farewells, expressing gratitude or soliciting a favor, offering an apology, and participating in worship or prayers.
Your position with the person you are addressing is communicated by the depth of your bow. The easiest and most widely applicable is to slant slightly, about fifteen degrees. Bowing about 30 degrees is common to show respect for someone older or in a higher position than you. The most polite position is a 45–70-degree bend, which conveys deep respect or regret.
BRING PLENTY OF BUSINESS CARDS
In Japan, exchanging business cards is an important part of networking. When you meet for the first time, it serves as an icebreaker and provides the other person with an overview of you and your business.
Business people’s “faces” are their business cards. They are viewed as an extension of both who you are and who you are meeting. For this reason, it’s customary to give business cards to people in Japan using both hands. Similarly, use both hands to accept the business card that is offered to you. Thank you with a head tilt.
WEAR EASY-TO-REMOVE SHOES
In Japan, taking off your shoes is customary in both homes and public places. You should bring clean socks and shoes that are simple to put on and take off because you will probably take your shoes off several times during the day.
Japanese living arrangements are the origin of the custom of taking off shoes indoors. Tatami mat flooring is typically used in homes for futon sleeping and dining areas. Shoes are off to protect the straw-woven mats and maintain a clean floor.
Shoes may not be allowed inside restaurants, historic buildings, temples, ryokan inns, and hot springs, to name a few public locations.
It’s polite to leave your shoes facing the door after taking them off. Additionally, it will be simpler for you to put them back on after you leave.
You might be given slippers to wear. Take off your slippers before stepping on the tatami mats in a room with them. Restaurants often provide toilet slippers. Do these when using the restroom, and remember to take them off when you return to the restaurant.
PROVIDE “THANKFUL REJECTION”
Japanese people are regarded as some of the world’s most indirect communicators. As such, it is very uncommon to hear the word “no.” Instead, when declining an invitation, proposal, or offer, the Japanese will say, “Thank you for your consideration.” The Japanese can preserve their cultural practice of avoiding direct confrontation because of these “thankful rejections.” In essence, it can be an expression of appreciation followed by a subtle rejection:
“Thank you so much, we will think about it.”
“We appreciate the invitation and will try our best.”
Men typically dress in dark blue, conservative suits with a white shirt and conservative tie for business. It has a uniform-like appearance. Wearing a dress, a skirt and blouse, or a suit is acceptable for women.
If a woman’s outfit is well-tailored, she can wear pants to a business meeting.
Since the Japanese believe that formality and respect are related, formality is significant in their culture. There is an expectation that men will wear ties to the first business meeting. It is acceptable for you to remove your tie if your Japanese counterpart isn’t wearing one. In Japan, people value conformity because it is safe, predictable, and signifies a certain kind of agreement.
NAMES AND TITLES OF PEOPLE
A Japanese person’s first name should never be used. Being so familiar is incredibly rude. Refer to a Japanese individual with their last name suffixed.
By -san, which denotes Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. Suzuki-san, for instance, denotes Mr. Suzuki, Miss Suzuki, etc. It is just improper to put the suffix “-san” after your own last name. The -san suffix is a dignified title; it seems foolish or uncultured to extend such a courtesy to oneself. Until they start using your first name, use the last names of your counterparts. Add the -san to the first name even then.
There are usually a few English-speaking people assigned to large Japanese companies to conduct negotiations in that language.
However, note that there are significant differences between the two languages, making communication difficult at times. Though they might have trouble articulating their opinions, Japanese negotiators typically better understand your thought process than you might think.
Using an interpreter has benefits. You will benefit from conducting business in the customer’s native tongue, and the Japanese team will feel more at ease working with you.
Japan is a very loyal market. If you make a mistake, be honest about it. Avoid making claims about your products that turn out to be untrue or claiming to be organic when you’re not. Japan is loyal, but they are very quick to turn their back if they discover that something has been done that’s not quite correct.
Many of the stereotypes about Japanese people that we see from abroad—that they are strict, hardworking, devoted, and honest—are, for the most part, accurate. Here, mistakes can be very costly and cause you to fall back significantly.
JAPAN IS A HIGHLY EDUCATED AND SOPHISTICATED MARKET
Japan is a highly educated and sophisticated market. Anything international and high-quality, particularly in the gourmet sector (be it wine, spirits, honey, cheese, or anything in the luxury space where demand depends on a very receptive market), is what the Japanese market is all about.
For instance, if you import wine into Japan, you should be aware that the nation has more qualified sommeliers than any other in the world in terms of wine education. In terms of the number of individuals who study wine, it is the most advanced market. In Japan, people adore collecting badges, certificates, and other souvenirs to display on their walls.
BE AWARE OF THE LOCAL COMPETITION
Japan’s strong local competition has forced many large companies to close their businesses. Make sure that you do your homework and learn from others’ mistakes. To fully understand your competition, the key characteristics of your product or service, and the localization demands to effectively communicate your brand, conduct an extensive market research study. Your best chance of success will come from conducting thorough research, developing a well-thought-out strategy, and creating a sound financial plan.
Reach out to us at Relin Consultants – Leading Global Business Set Up Partners for further assistance if you wish to incorporate a company in Japan and run it successfully.
What are the key cultural differences to consider when conducting business in Japan?
In Japan, punctuality is highly valued. Everyone is expected to be on time for meetings and appointments. Make an effort to arrive either early or precisely at the appointed time. Inform your Japanese counterpart courteously and regretfully if you anticipate a delay.
What role does hierarchy play in Japanese business culture?
Respect for decisions made by superiors is shown by subordinates, which promotes a peaceful workplace built on loyalty and respect for one another. The speed of decision-making may also be impacted by the hierarchical structure of Japanese businesses.
How does the concept of “saving face” impact business interactions in Japan?
Maintaining one’s dignity in public, both to oneself and others, is arguably one of Japan’s most significant cultural values. To keep their good reputation intact and avoid offending anyone, Japanese people usually try to figure out how to modify their own desires to suit those of others appropriately.
What is the significance of business cards in Japan, and how should they be exchanged?
In Japan, social order and hierarchy are highly valued. When exchanging meishi, it is crucial to present your card with both hands, offering it to the recipient with a slight bow. The text on the card should be properly displayed when it is facing the recipient.
Which negotiation strategies are common in Japanese business culture?
Japanese negotiators emphasize areas of agreement, try to avoid conflict, and search for a middle ground where both sides can benefit. The Japanese employ a non-argumentative communicative style.