10 tips for doing business in Japan

Introduction to Japanese business culture

Do your homework on Japanese etiquette, and the structure of the business world. It may take years to understand Japanese culture, but you should at least start with a basic understanding of what is expected of you. Society is governed by strict protocols and these must be respected, particularly understanding seniority, respecting age, enabling the Japanese to save face at all times and reading between the lines of what people say, which is not always what they mean.

Infographic: Top 10 business etiquette insights – Japan

On a more basic level, arrive in Japan armed with appropriate gifts, carefully-prepared presentations and a large pile of business cards. Stay in a reputable hotel and dress smartly but conservatively. Act with modesty and humility at all times.

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Top 10 tips on Japanese business culture

Here are 10 essential tips for making a good impression when doing business in Japan:

  1. Always save face. Taking care not to criticise somebody in front of other people is absolutely fundamental to doing business in Japan.
  2. Offer reassurance. The Japanese appreciate continuity, predictability and stability.
  3. Manage conflict carefully. Adopt a conciliatory and accommodating manner if you need to resolve a dispute.
  4. Understand the strict hierarchy. In Japan, everybody has a place in the hierarchy regardless of whether this is in the workplace or in the family.
  5. Value status. Status is important and your business card should show your job title clearly – have it translated into Japanese, as well.
  6. Learn about body language. Japanese people find it difficult to say ‘no’ so learn to read indirect signals that your counterpart may be trying to give you a negative answer.
  7. Build trust. The Japanese like to do business with people they know so work on business relationships, which includes extensive entertaining.
  8. Work through a third party. A mutual contact is the best way to make an introduction as the Japanese like to place newcomers in perspective.
  9. Be punctual. Time is very valuable to the Japanese and being late is a sign of rudeness.
  10. Strive for harmony. Decisions are made by consensus and can take a long time; achieving harmony within the group is a key value.

Do you regularly work across cultures? Would you like to improve your ability to communicate and influence with colleagues and clients from other cultures?

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About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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