06/02/2015

By Rob Johnson, Cross Cultural Consultant, Farnham Castle Intercultural Training


Enjoying more three star Michelin restaurants than France, and where etiquette allows for noodles to be slurped - Japan is not always what we in the West assume it to be.

As the world’s third largest economy, and with main exports that include vehicles, computer parts and watches, the land of the rising sun is a formidable player in the world of commerce.

Key values such as loyalty and respect for status play a pivotal role when doing business in Japan - where strong social and employment hierarchies result in most Japanese men working for the same employer for their entire career.

The Japanese often feel that the qualities of hard work, discipline and commitment are lacking in their western counterparts - considering us to be too direct, unprepared and unpredictable. In short, they view our way of working as inferior. This is why it is vital to research, understand and appreciate the Japanese mentality and approach to business before embarking on any commercial relationships with them.

Follow these top tips for building successful business relationships in Japan:

1. When meeting and greeting a Japanese colleague always remain formal. Present your business card with two hands, then shake hands, give your full name and scrutinise your counterpart’s card for at least one minute. Never put it in your back pocket as this is likely to offend.

2.Take time over introductions and don’t get down to business too quickly.

3. Maintain formality, use their surname followed by ‘san’ – which is a title of respect - unless they invite you to use their first name.

4. Keep your distance – the Japanese are not accustomed to close physical contact in formal business situations.

5. When talking, keep it simple – especially if you have an accent, don’t be too direct and allow them time to respond.

6. To ensure they understand what you are saying, ask open questions, such as ‘how do you feel about this proposal’ or ‘what do you feel about this’. The Japanese do not like to say no and will often say ‘maybe’ when they mean ‘no’.

7. Bear in mind that the Japanese will often consult with colleagues before making a decision.

8. When making a presentation to a Japanese audience, do not expect them to applaud enthusiastically once you have finished, or to ask many questions.

9. Socialise as much as possible - the Japanese love informal gatherings.

10. Show interest in developing your knowledge of Japanese culture.

The Japanese are renowned for being the world’s most demanding customers, accepting nothing less than the highest standards of quality and service. Understanding this and not judging everything from a Western perspective will ensure greater success for those seeking to tap into this dynamic market.