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Japan Business Etiquette: 5 Things You Need to Know

Adopting the correct business etiquette in Japan can make all the difference when conducting business there, especially for companies or individuals who are not accustomed to Japanese culture. Adapting your own behaviour to suit Japanese customs demonstrates respect and deference, and can have a powerful impact on the success of your business relationships.

In this article, we outline 5 things that you need to know about Japan business etiquette if you want to make your business a success in this country.

1. Business card etiquette in Japan

Business card etiquette in Japan is incredibly important. The business card is treated as an extension of the person, and should be afforded the same level of respect. Remember to always give and receive a business card with both hands. When you have been given a business card, take the time to read it. If you are in a meeting, place it on the table in front of you until the meeting is over, and make sure to then place it in a business card holder. Under no circumstances should you shove a business card you have just received in your pocket or wallet.

Ideally your business card will have English on one side and Japanese on the other. If so, you should present your card to your Japanese counterpart with the Japanese side face up.

In Japan, age is usually equated with seniority. Correctly understanding company hierarchies is vital, and you should demonstrate a higher level of respect for older employees, for example by greeting them and offering them your business card first.

2. Conduct in Meetings

Business etiquette in Japan values silence, and it is used to preserve harmony in otherwise heated discussions. Silence implies wisdom and self-control, and adopting a more conservative approach to meetings can put your Japanese counterparts at ease. A high pressure, confrontational approach will often not succeed in Japan, and building relationships is incredibly important.

3. Chopsticks

If you are doing business in Japan, you may be invited to a meal. Using chopsticks is the norm, so you may want to brush up on your skills before you visit. There are many customs and rituals associated with eating in Japan, but at a minimum you should remember to never stab your food with your chopsticks (no matter how slippery it is!) and never push your chopsticks into a bowl of rice so that they are sticking up into the air.

If you run the risk of firing a tempura prawn across the room when you use chopsticks, then it may be best for you to avoid them altogether in order to not cause offense. There are some discrete options that you can pack for your trip to make eating more practical for you, such a small travel set of western utensils.

4. Gifts

Companies often choose to present gifts, particularly at a first meeting, to demonstrate good will. The cultural ritual of gift giving in Japan has many intricate rules of its own, but it is prudent to remember the following points:

  • If you are giving flowers, avoid lilies, lotus blossoms, and camellias, or any white flowers, as all of these are regarded as inauspicious. Potted plants are associated with sickness and are also best avoided;
  • Try not to give gifts of four or nine items, as these numbers are viewed as ill-fated;
  • Gifts should be wrapped, and ideally carried into a meeting in a discreet bag, to avoid any ostentation;
  • If you are taking a business trip to Japan, it is a good ideal to pack a variety of small wrapped items, so that if you are unexpectedly presented with a gift, you can reciprocate;
  • Gourmet foodstuffs such as chocolates or fine whiskeys are good ideas for gifts, or a simple item to commemorate the meeting such as a framed photograph;
  • Like business cards, gifts should be presented and accepted with both hands. If you receive a gift, you should open it in private after the meeting.

5. It’s the Little Things

There are many small details of everyday life which add up to big ways of showing respect. In the workplace, there is an unofficial dress code: conservative business suits in dark colors and minimal jewellery are ideal, and tall women may want to consider not wearing heels if this means they will be taller than their Japanese counterparts.

Furthermore, if you are invited to visit someone’s home, it is customary to take your shoes off at the door and wear slippers provided by your host. However, you should take these slippers off when you encounter a tatami floor, which should only be stepped on with socks or bare feet. If you go to the bathroom, you should change to another pair of slippers specifically for the bathroom.

Thinking of doing business in Japan?

Japan presents tremendous business opportunities, with Japanese companies remaining committed to quality and innovation. As well as abiding by the correct business etiquette in Japan, having the right partner when doing business in Japan is vital to make your expansion a success.

As a Professional Employment Organization (PEO), INS Global has an in-depth knowledge of Japan’s cultural norms, business practices and legal landscape. We can help you to navigate foreign waters as you establish yourself in Japan. We can even provide recruitment and company incorporation support, giving you peace of mind that you are laying the right foundations for your business to thrive. Contact us to discuss how we can support you.

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DATE January 27, 2020
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