Business Etiquette in Japan
Japanese culture and business practices differ from Australia's. As you start or expand your business in Japan, having an understanding of Japanese business etiquette is important to your success. Knowing and practicing common customs will also help you relax, avoid embarrassment, and focus on the matters at hand on critical occasions. This page provides a brief set of guidelines on Japanese business customs and practices.
Before beginning, recognize that the following qualities are valued by the Japanese and therefore relevant to your Japanese business interactions today:
- Respect for elders and rankings (note that the latter is particularly important when dealing with government officials)
Approaching Business in Japan
Top tip:punctuality is essential in business and social meetings.
Doing research on the market is important in Japan, but personal relationships are equally essential to business success here. In general, the business etiquette in Japan is not dissimilar to Australia - punctuality, good manners and politeness are all important qualities. The main difference between Australian and Japanese business etiquette is that Japanese business etiquette is far more formal. This ranges from the initial greeting and swapping of business cards to your attire.
Attending and Conducting Meetings with your Japanese counterparts
Top tip:Always arrive early for your business meeting.
In general, meetings in Japan follow the same format as those in Australia, albeit with a bit more ritual. The Japanese value punctuality. Arrive early by at least 10 minutes and earlier is you are meeting with a senior executive. The following points should be kept in mind:
- Handshaking and physical contact: Avoiding shaking hands on the first meeting. It is very much an Australian/American custom to grab you counterparts hand an offer a hearty hand shake. Japanese business people will only rarely shake hands. Japanese business etiquette avoids physical contact all together.
- Business cards: The importance of business cards in Japanese business culture cannot be over-emphasized. Ensure that provide Japanese business cards, presented in a bi-lingual format with the English on one side and the Japanese translation on the other side.
- Giving/Receiving business cards in Japan: Japanese use both hands when giving and receiving anything of value, including gifts and particularly business cards; you should do the same as this is one of the first points at which you will make an impression. Presenting your business card in Japanese conveys respect to both your Japanese associate and to their culture. It also enables them to instantly comprehend your position within your company. Ensure that the Japanese side is facing upwards and forward. Hand the cards out to individuals in order of seniority bowing slightly as you do so. When handed a card, take some time to look at and acknowledge the individual's card. Say 'thank you' (Hajimemashite) when receiving a business card in Japan. Treat all individuals business cards with respect. Ideally store in a business card holder.
- Preparation: Be well prepared in advance of your meetings. Your Chinese hosts will most likely know you and your business quite well. Have a detailed proposition of the value of your company and product; your counterparts will have one for you (see section below on "Materials"). Japanese businesses often meet with numerous foreign businesses seeking to establish relationships; if you are unable to capture their attention at the first meeting, you may not be able to secure follow-up. Ensure that you have planned the content for the meeting. Punctuality is essential in Japanese business meetings. Meetings very rarely run over time as the participants are often very busy and will not be prepared to be late for their next meeting.
- Can you communicate with your Japanese host or guest? Make sure you know the language capabilities of your hosts or guests before the meeting. It is more convenient and reliable for you to have your own interpretation if your hosts don't speak English or have little English capability. Australian Multi Lingual Services are able to assist you with the provision of skilled English speaking interpreters in Japan.
- Note taking. It is good Japanese business etiquette to take notes during a meeting. Aside from the practical importance of note taking, it is a demonstration of respect to your Japanese counterparts as you value what they saying.
- Materials: Have Japanese language materials (e.g. brochures, presentations) about your company and/or products to share with your hosts. While your contact in the organization may speak perfect English, the decision makers in the company may not. It will be challenging for your interlocutor to convince others of your company or product's value if they are not equipped with Japanese materials. Australian Multi Lingual Services provides professional translation and typesetting services. Please be sure to make any translation enquiries prior to your departure or your client's arrival as it is best not to rush the translation process.
- Dress Code: Dress smart I wear a suit. Wear dark suits in Winter time with white shirts. Wear conservatively colored ties but not black as this is custom funeral attire. Lighter colored suits and short sleeve shirts are appropriate for Summer time. Japanese business men will tend to have short haircuts but not shaven. Facial hair on Japanese businessmen is frowned upon. Similarly, business women in Japan dress smartly and often have their hair tied back. Short skirts and high heels are best avoided.
- Seating Arrangements: Business etiquette applies to seating arrangements in business meetings. Do not just grab the nearest seat. Wait to be seated. There is an Japanese business etiquette that applies to who sits where in a business meeting.
Dining in Japan
Top tip:Never, ever, pass food with your chopsticks!
Under no circumstances pass food with your chopsticks as this reminds Japanese of the ritual of passing cremated bones between chopsticks at funerals. The same rule applies to sticking your chopsticks into a bowl of rice vertically which similarly has connotations with funerals.
When first seated, many restaurants will provide you with a wet towel. Use the wet towel to clean your hands. Do not use it to wipe your face.
As you begin your meal say 'Itadaki-masu' which translates as "I humbly receive".
To eat soup, pick up the bowl and slurp. Slurping sounds are not considered impolite; on the contrary, slurping your soup is a sign that you are enjoying the food.
Eat all of the food on your plate. This is considered proper Japanese dining etiquette.
Chopstick etiquette is very similar to Western knife and fork etiquette:
- Never pass food with your chopsticks
- Avoid pointing your chopsticks at someone while talking.
- Never pass food with your chopsticks
- Do not wave your chopsticks around over food on the table.
- Do not suck sauces off of your chopsticks.
- Do not rub your chopsticks together or play with them unnecessarily.
- Do not lift food by stabbing it with your chopsticks
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