Global Business Etiquette: Japan

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 While etiquette may seem old fashioned to some, manners assume heightened importance on the global stage.  Learning about  a country's customs before you arrive can help to bridge cultural gaps, it can open doors to experiences other visitors may not be privy to, and help you to avoid cultural faux pas' that could cost you business opportunities or even land you in jail! 

Keep reading for our top  tips on navigating business in Japan, without causing an international incident.

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Meishi -Business cards (known as Meishi in Japan) will be exchanged at every meeting so it is important to carry more than you think you'll need. If you will be working with Japanese clients frequently, it is a good idea to invest in double sided cards where your details are printed in Japanese using the same design elements as the English side of the card.  After you've introduced yourself, offer the card with both hands as it demonstrates more respect.  Make sure the card is facing out towards the recipient so that it can be easily read.  When receiving cards, you should again hold the card with both hands, taking the time to deliberately read the information before storing it.  You should never take notes on a Japanese business card, store it in your back pocket, or forget to take it when leaving a meeting as these are all considered incredibly rude.

Attire - Men should wear dark suits with white shirts and subdued ties, facial hair and pony tails are discouraged.  Some  businessmen have difficulty relating to women with authority in business, wearing dark skirt or pant suits, keeping makeup neutral, and avoiding jewelry and high heels will help you to be treated with respect.

Body Language- If the meeting is held in English, you will shake hands before.  If it is held in Japanese, bowing is appropriate.  The Japanese value their personal space, so avoid gestures such as a pat on the back or shoulder as they can make some people uncomfortable enough to avoid ever meeting again.

Meetings- Wait to be seated in the meeting room because there is a custom as to which side of the table each party sits on.  Taking notes is appreciated as it indicates interest and engagement. If you are going to be late, call ahead to inform the other party at least one hour before, punctuality is valued.  

Dining- Learn to use chopsticks before you arrive as western utensils aren't always provided.  Do not play with your chopsticks unnecessarily, don't pick up food by stabbing at it, don't use them to pass food to another person, and never wave them at someone while talking.  Loudly slurping your food while eating shows appreciation to the chef. Tipping your waiter is seen as rude, as is pouring your own glass.

Conversation- Make polite small talk before jumping into discussions about business.  An indirect communication style that protects the other person's self esteem is preferred, blunt conversation and raised voices will be seen as overly aggressive.