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Japanese Business Etiquette - The Essentials

Japanese Business Etiquette – The Essentials

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Japanese Business Etiquette – The Essentials

Demonstrating a little understanding of Japanese culture in a business meeting implies that you have a genuine interest in doing business with them. That’s the best way to create a lasting impression on your business associates.

Good manners, politeness, and sensitivity are the pillars of Japanese business etiquettes as they are in other parts of the world. The difference here is that Japanese business etiquettes are quite formal. However, the Japanese are usually forgiving to outsiders and tend to ignore minor transgressions if you show an effort to understanding their customs.

Japanese Business Etiquette – Meetings

Japanese businessmen like a conservative demeanor. Showing modesty builds trust and image and leads to a higher level of respect from a Japanese host.

When going for a meeting with a Japanese counterpart, you should call your client 1-2 hours prior to the meeting to confirm that you are coming. If you think you may be late, call at least an hour in advance to ask your client to reschedule the meeting. It is always advisable to arrive approximately 10 minutes early for a meeting.

Upon meeting, your Japanese counterpart may offer a handshake. However, bowing may show respect to their culture making a more favorable impression on your business associate.

When the time comes to sit, wait till your Japanese host guides you where to sit as there is a custom regarding seating positions around the table.

Moreover, taking a lot of notes is considered a sign of interest. It is good to take notes of everything at meetings to keep yourself involved in the discussion and look interested.

Business Cards

The exchange of business cards during a meeting is essential business protocol in Japan. The Japanese call business cards “meishi” and foreigners are expected to bring their dual-side printed bilingual business cards essentially.

The Japanese place great emphasis on business cards. They see your business card as a reflection of your image and your intent of carrying out business with them so it is the best way to create a strong impression on your Japanese counterpart.

When your Japanese counterpart presents the card, receive it with both hands and give a quick bow. Read the card and place it carefully on the table until the meeting is over. When the meeting comes to an end, place the card in the folder or card case.

Things to Avoid in Japanese Business Meetings

  • Keep your hands out of your pockets when talking to someone.
  • Do not deface or damage the business card that has been presented to you. Also, avoid putting them in your pocket.
  • If your Japanese associate or client invites you for lunch or dinner, accept it wholeheartedly.
  • The numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky in Japanese culture. Avoid giving gifts in set of four or nine.
  • Do not write in red ink.
  • Avoid raising your voice or using excessive hand gestures in business meetings.

The Japanese may not seem welcoming initially. But, once you develop strong relationship with them, your interactions may get less formal and friendlier with them. Learning Japanese business etiquettes and there culture was of great interest of mine, both when I was young and later when I had to travel to Japan for business. This book helped me solve much of that curiosity.

Learning about the long history and culture of the society helps to build your reputation in your Japanese counterparts’ eyes.

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2 Comments

  1. Mr. Cohen:

    Your blog entry on Japanese Business Etiquette is very timely for me.

    I have a meeting with a Japanese company coming here to meet me. The person I am meeting with is Japanese but the U.S head

    Would you advise any changes or alteration with my conduct towards him.

    Don’t want to look patronizing

    Thank you

    Richard B. Leeds

    • Hi Mr. Leeds,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to read through the article, much appreciated.
      I’d love to be able to help offer some advice but I’d need to know more about the circumstances. But generally, Japanese business people prefer working with people on the same “level” as themselves in an organization. As you say, the person you’re meeting is the US Head, so he’ll have plenty of experience understanding how we do business in the US.

      If you’re hosting the meeting, he will most likely follow your lead.

      Good luck!

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