Blog | Friday 17 February 2017
Sarah Sharpe, DIT Marketing Assistant - UK Exporters, gives her best tips on business etiquette when doing business in Japan.
Our Top Tips on Business Etiquette Will Help You Find Success As You Do Business in Japan
Whilst Britain’s decision to leave the EU will bring about some changes in the nature of UK trade relations, there is good reason to believe that UK-Japan business relations will go from strength to strength in the coming months and years.
In a world where unpredictability and uncertainty have become a new norm, the Japanese market offers relative stability and the chance to make successful long-term investments in a wide range of sectors.
With this in mind, this article will revisit some key points on Japanese business culture and etiquette in order to show that whilst some of the formalities and unspoken rules may at first seem daunting, they should not feel like barriers but rather a doorway to the lucrative and dependable Japanese market.
Japanese business etiquette
It is first worthy of note that business etiquette plays an important role in Japanese corporate culture and understanding some of the main customs and practices will help you to initiate and build strong relationships with Japanese companies. Whilst it is advisable to follow these as best you can, as a foreigner, you won’t be expected to do everything the way a Japanese business man or woman might. The most important thing is to show respect, a willingness to cooperate and a commitment to quality service.
Punctuality is of paramount importance in Japan. From trains to meetings and payments, things rarely run behind schedule and you will be expected to match this efficiency. Aim to arrive at least 10 minutes in advance of a meeting and make sure you plan the material you want to present and discuss during the meeting so that you don’t run over the allocated time. If something goes wrong and you’re running late, make sure to let someone know well in advance to minimise any inconvenience.
Business cards, known as meishi in Japanese, are a vital element of initiating business relations so make sure to bring plenty with you when coming to Japan. You’ll be expected to be able to provide business cards for every member of the Japanese team. It is advisable to have a double-sided business card – one-side in English and the other in Japanese. It’s important to make a good first impression so make sure that translations are accurate and the design matches the English version.
Hold the bottom of the business card with two hands when giving and receiving, showing respect as you do so. Line them up during the meeting and put them away in your wallet/ purse, bag or card case before you leave. Avoid writing on the business cards or putting them in your pocket. A business card is considered a symbol or extension of your business so the way you present and treat your own and those of others is important!
Japanese business men and women normally bow rather than shake hands when meeting and greeting but as a foreigner it is likely that a handshake will be most appropriate.
Dress code for business meetings is formal. It’s generally best to play it safe and wear a dark-coloured suit or similar. Try to present yourself well and look interested at all times.
There is often a seating plan so wait to be seated. It’s useful to be aware that seating is usually arranged according to seniority and an important status is granted to guests. Hierarchy generally plays an important role in Japanese business culture so it’s worth bearing this in mind when meeting Japanese teams.
If your meetings are conducted in English, be sensitive towards the language skills of your prospective business partners. Levels of English will vary from fluent to fairly basic so remember to speak clearly (and slowly if necessary). If you need any official documents translated, make sure to do this in good time to avoid any communication issues.
Ultimately, the Japanese hold many of the same core values as the British when doing business and it’s best not to get too bogged down in stereotypes and feel put off by myths about Japanese business culture. Interest, common sense and mutual respect are key to productive business meetings and a focus on quality and long-term investment are likely to help your business succeed in the Japanese market.
Aside from this, doing business in Japan should be an enjoyable experience and if you are invited to go for a drink with a prospective business partner then definitely go along and make the most of it. The chink of beer glasses may well be the sound of a business deal coming into fruition.