Business Etiquette and Protocol in Japan

Understanding of Foreign WaysEtiquette in Japan

. Japanese understand that it is very difficult for foreigners to work in Japan.
.  They will not expect you to speak or read Japanese, or be conversant with their strict cultural nuances and protocol.
. Mistakes are allowed as long as genuine respect is shown at all times.
. They will usually try to help you but often feel embarrassment at their own lack of understanding or English language ability.

Relationships & Communication

. The Japanese prefer to do business on the basis of personal relationships.
. In general, being introduced or recommended by someone who already has a good relationship with the company is extremely helpful as it allows the Japanese to know how to place you in a hierarchy relative to themselves.
. One way to build and maintain relationships is with greetings / seasonal cards.
. It is important to be a good correspondent as the Japanese hold this in high esteem.

Business Meeting Etiquette

. Appointments are required and, whenever possible, should be made several weeks in advance.
. It is best to telephone for an appointment rather than send a letter, fax or email.
. Punctuality is important. Arrive on time for meetings and expect your Japanese colleagues will do the same.
. Since this is a group society, even if you think you will be meeting one person, be prepared for a group meeting.
. The most senior Japanese person will be seated furthest from the door, with the rest of the people in descending rank until the most junior person is seated closest to the door.
.  It may take several meetings for your Japanese counterparts to become comfortable with you and be able to conduct business with you.
. This initial getting to know you time is crucial to laying the foundation for a successful relationship.
. You may be awarded a small amount of business as a trial to see if you meet your commitments.
. If you respond quickly and with excellent service, you prove your ability and trustworthiness.
. Never refuse a request, no matter how difficult or non- profitable it may appear. The Japanese are looking for a long-term relationship.
. Always provide a package of literature about your company including articles and client testimonials.
. Always give a small gift, as a token of your esteem, and present it to the most senior person at the end of the meeting. Your Japanese contact can advise you on where to find something appropriate.

Business Negotiation

. The Japanese are non-confrontational.
. They have a difficult time saying ‘no’, so you must be vigilant at observing their non-verbal communication.
. It is best to phrase questions so that they can answer yes. For example, do you disagree with this? Group decision-making and consensus are important.
. Written contracts are required.
. The Japanese often remain silent for long periods of time. Be patient and try to work out if your Japanese colleagues have understood what was said.
. Japanese prefer broad agreements and mutual understanding so that when problems arise they can be handled flexibly.
. Using a Japanese lawyer is seen as a gesture of goodwill. Note that Japanese lawyers are quite different from Western lawyers as they are much more functionary.
. Never lose your temper or raise your voice during negotiations.
. Some Japanese close their eyes when they want to listen intently.
. The Japanese seldom grant concession. They expect both parties to come to the table with their best offer.
. The Japanese do not see contracts as final agreements so they can be renegotiated.

Dress Etiquette

. Business attire is conservative.
. Men should wear dark-coloured, conservative business suits.
. Women should dress conservatively.

Business Cards

. Business cards are exchanged constantly and with great ceremony.
. Invest in quality cards.
. Always keep your business cards in pristine condition.
. Treat the business card you receive as you would the person.
. You may be given a business card that is only in Japanese.
. It is wise to have one side of your business card translated into Japanese.
. Give your business card with the Japanese side facing the recipient.
. Make sure your business card includes your title, so your Japanese colleagues know your status within your organization.
. Business cards are given and received with two hands and a slight bow.
. Examine any business card you receive very carefully.
. During a meeting, place the business cards on the table in front of you in the order people are seated.
. When the meeting is over, put the business cards in a business card case or a portfolio.