Often labelled a workaholic country, with their organizational skills being displayed even in the way they do simple things such as crossing the road or for that matter, the discipline while travelling in metros. The reason for certain behaviours is ingrained in their value system, which is why, it is extremely essential to do a background check of the place you plan to visit, especially, if the motive is to merge with Japanese companies.

South-east Asian countries viz. China, Japan and Korea have more or less similar cultural norms, although some things may be deemed as distinct. Known as ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, Japan is an island nation having one of the largest economies in the world, highest life expectancy rate, and is also a leading name in manufacturing automobiles. The Japanese economy achieved tremendous growth from mid 1950s, and since then, there has been a rise in foreign investments and trade. Among others, Japan is a part of organizations like WTO, OECD, G-20, G-8 and APEC.

To avoid negative feedback, it is very important for your company to do enough market research before presenting, more than that, it is essential to customize your product or service according to the Japanese standards; as there are several examples of big companies having to give in, due to lack of the above mentioned points.

Here are some typical Japanese business etiquettes you should be aware of –

  1. Till date, barely 3-5% of the Japanese population can speak fluent English. The preferred language for business is Japanese, which is one of the top 10 business languages of the world. It is advised to get the necessary documents like Company Profile, material for presentation, business cards, etc. translated from English to Japanese. Since language could well act as a barrier, it is imperative to hire a Japanese interpreter for business meetings.
  2. Business cards are usually shared with each person present at the meeting. It must be bilingual and the Japanese version should face up, while giving it to any official. Also, business cards are given and accepted with both hands. They’re also handed over personally and not kept on the table for distribution. It is thought to be rude if you take the card and slide it in your pocket without reading it.
  3. Handshakes have to be accompanied with head bowing, as a matter of respect and courtesy.
  4. As mentioned earlier, the Japanese place high value on market research and can expectably do a good background check of your company or product, before the meeting; it would help to have the company website translated to Japanese language.
  5. Business and personal relationships both function on the basis of hierarchy. It is common to find CEO’s who also happen to be senior as per age. This should be kept in mind while arranging for the first meeting, as it would be the mid-level management who would be contacted initially. Hierarchy determines status as well as other aspects like seating arrangements for meetings, business dinners, etc.
  6. The concept of ‘face’ is essential to understand whilst planning to work with Japanese counterparts. In its simplest form, ‘face’ refers to respect and honor. Through your actions and words, you may either gain or lose face for yourself and even for others.
  7. The tone of voice shouldn’t be too loud. Facial expressions should not be made too obvious. Expect your host or fellow Japanese colleagues to be silent at any given point in time, during the meetings. It is a sign of reflection or a way of dealing with difficult situations. Point being, it is important to be subtle in all aspects while dealing with your Japanese counterparts.
  8. Gift-giving in Japan is more of a ritualistic custom. Gifts are exchanged for a number of occasions, the two major ones being Ochugen (mid-year gift as a mark of gratitude) and Oseibo (year-end gift as a mark of indebtedness). Although not mandatory, they can be given during your first visit. Gifts are presented with both hands. It won’t be taken in a good spirit, if your gift has the company logo on it. Thoughtful and original gifts are appreciated. Some of them could be an assortment of food items or fruits, wine, cufflinks or scarves, expensive chocolates or sweets, etc. Red, pink and yellow are the safest colours when it comes to gift wrapping. Avoid using black and red colour together or bright flashy colours. It is to be noted that gift giving takes place at the end of your visit and not in the beginning.
  9. Avoid scheduling meetings during national holidays, especially during New Years or between April – May. Some holidays include Coming of age, National Foundation Day, Spring Equinox Day, Showa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day, Respect for Aged Day, Autumn Equinox Day, Labour Thanksgiving Day etc.