Doing Business in Japan
Half a world away, Japan is an enticing business market. With the world’s third largest economy, some of the largest companies in the world call Japan home and the Japanese role in the international community is considerably large (BBC). Though their international influence continues to grow, Japan still remains a very traditional society with strong social hierarchies that affect the way the Japanese conduct business (“Japan- Values and Beliefs”), It is important to understand the attitudes and values of the Japanese to be able to successfully do business in a country that is frankly very different from our own. As a group of isolated islands, it is only expected that although Japan is not cut off from the rest of the world anymore, they remain stubbornly Japanese and their ways of conducting business differ from the rest of the world. In Japan, there is a divide between how one appears and what one says (called tatemae) and what one actually thinks (referred to as honne), as the Japanese value modesty and the concept of “saving face” (Garcia, 2010). For reasons such as these, doing business in Japan takes considerably longer than other places, and patience is an important virtue.
When it comes to doing business in Japan, there is a heightened sense of formality, and this begins on the first meeting. It is customary in Japan to bow, as it can be used for showing gratitude, sympathy, an apology, or even a simple greeting. However, as a Westerner, you are most likely to be greeted with a handshake and a slight nod (“Doing Business in Japan | Etiquette”, 2012). The Japanese offer very few cues in their body language, so observing their actions may lead to even more confusion. When introducing oneself, the full name and company name should be given. In their book on doing business in Japan, Coulter, Lee, Sheldon and Meraz discuss social hierarchy and the importance of establishing the titles of your hosts is necessary to correctly address them. The highest ranking executives will always be introduced first, and followed by order of titles. Once you have had a proper greeting with your Japanese host, it helps immensely to know which topics are appropriate for conversation, as usually there will be little to no talk of business on the first meeting. Generally, people stay away from topics such as politics and past war history, but other topics such theater and sports are appropriate for discussion (“Japan: Conversation”, 2007). Try to keep the conversation at a non-business, yet non-personal level. It is okay to compliment people, but keep in mind their likely response will be that they do not deserve the compliment. Gift giving is a popular and important ritual in Japan as it helps build relationships with customers and other businesses. It is a good idea to bring an assortment of gifts along with you on a business trip so that you can reciprocate if you are given a gift. Always present the gift with both hands, and do not be offended if the recipient does not open it in public, as the Japanese are very concerned with the idea of saving face. Before accepting a gift, it is polite to refuse once or twice before accepting (Boye, 2004). When dining in Japan, you should never expect to find Western-style utensils, so knowing how to use chopsticks is a necessary skill. There are a few behaviors you should make a point to avoid, such as blowing your nose at the table and pointing with the fingers or chopsticks, which in Japan are both considered extremely rude (“Japanese Table Manners”, 2008). Your hosts will likely pay in order to save face; if this is not the case, tipping is not customary and can actually offend the person whom you give it to (Rodgers). Negotiating in Japan can be a long process, as most Japanese have only a limited knowledge of English, there is somewhat of a language barrier. Ask the...
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Coulter, S., Lee, J., Sheldon, A., & Meraz, J. (2011). Doing Business in Japan. Conflict Resolution & Negotiation Journal, (2), 96-103. Retrieved October 8, 2013
Doing Business in Japan: 10 Etiquette Rules You Should Know | OPEN Forum
Doing Business in Japan | etiquette. (2012). Retrieved November 7, 2013, from http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/etiquette/doing-business-japan.html
Garcia, H. (2010). Honne and Tatemae Kirainet.com – A geek in Japan. Retrieved November 7, 2013, from http://www.kirainet.com/english/honne-and-tatemae
Japan: Conversation - ExecutivePlanet.com
Japanese table manners. (2008). Japan Guide.Com. Retrieved November 7, 2013, from http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2005.html
Nishiyama, K. (2000). Doing Business with Japan : Successful Strategies for Intercultural Communication. Honolulu: University of Hawai 'i Press
Rodgers, G. (2013). Guide for Tipping in Asia - When and Where. Retrieved November 7, 2013, from http://goasia.about.com/od/Customs-and-Traditions/a/Tipping-in-Asia.htm
Stone, R. A. (2010). Negotiate Correctly with the Japanese. Retrieved November 7, 2013, from ezinearticles.com/?Negotiate-Correctly-With-the-Japanese&id=4271953
U.S Library of Congress
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