The Japanese culture is surely different to that of the West. These differences might keep a businessman to introduce its product or service to Japan, but understanding the culture of the country will be a great start to establish stable, long-term and friendly relationships with the Japanese.
Here are some facts about doing business in Japan:
1. Silence is important.
Japanese people view silence as necessary for contemplation. They value silence more than the abundance of talking. In times of stress during meetings, Westerners might be more verbal and might feel uncomfortable while the other party is silent, but the Japanese like to be silent to release the tension. Be aware that at the beginning of a business relationship, you will likely receive an introverted, formal approach when doing business with the Japanese.
2. The Japanese value group solidarity.
The Japanese people are group-oriented and individualism is not valued much. If you would recognize a single person from their business team and praise him for valuable work, he is likely to be embarrassed than flattered. Remember that the concept of a team is very important to the Japanese and they like to give public credit to an entire group, and they want to be treated the same.
3. Hard-selling your business idea won’t work.
The high pressure, confrontational and pushy approach is not received well by the Japanese. Their decision-making style is by consensus, and it might take a longer time than you expected. Resist the urge to drive too hard to speed the process up – you may appear disrespectful and impatient. If they often delay decision-making, it is because they take time to focus on the end result, not because they are inefficient. Take the longer process as an opportunity to build your relationship with them.
While it is important to build rapport to nurture the business relationship, avoid asking a lot of personal questions. Japanese people are known to be private and reserved, so these types of interactions would make them uncomfortable with you. It is why Japan lags worldwide in adopting social media.
4. The Japanese are very polite and more formal during business meetings.
Good manners are highly important and their business etiquette is more formal. The Japanese will bow before someone as a greeting – handshakes are uncommon for them. They place regard with seniority as they introduce themselves and offer business cards in order of rank. They would also tend to be more respectful for individuals in a senior position. Use proper titles when introducing oneself or when greeting others to establish their status quo.
Their business dress code is conservative and formal. Women are expected to wear minimum jewelry to avoid being the center of attraction.
You should be aware of that trading of business cards is a typical ritual during first business meetings. Bring plenty of your cards, which should be offered to them with the Japanese side facing upwards towards the direction of a recipient. It would be better if you offer it with both hands.
The Japanese businessmen expect foreigners to be prepared. They may ask many questions, so be ready as they expect your answers to be readily available. Also take time to carefully read and remember all key information – it is important to them. Keep your emotions at bay to keep formality.
5. Give gifts but be careful.
Business gift exchange is a common tradition in Japan. Although not compulsory, the Japanese like to give during first meetings or special occasions, so it will be nice for foreigners to do the same. However, there are things you should avoid giving to the Japanese. Avoid giving a set of four of anything because the word “four” is unlucky and is related to death for them. Also avoid flowers such as camellias, lilies, lotus blossom or any white flowers because they are used for funeral services. If you are given a wrapped gift, wait until you have left the meeting before you open it.
6. Observe polite etiquette.
Observing politeness is a way to show respect for the Japanese. You might be aware of their practice of taking off shoes at the door before entering a Japanese home, or for some restaurants and traditional buildings. The Japanese host will provide you slippers, but sometimes you also have to remove it once there is a mat on the floor. You are not expected to do this, but it will be very appreciated if you do. It would also demonstrate that you respect them and you are sensible and flexible.
When dining out, it is usual to sit on a pillow in low traditional tables. Giving a tip is not customary in Japan – it is enough to say “gochisosama deshita” or thank you for the meal when you leave.