While many business trips take place within a business person’s country, some business travelers frequently travel internationally. As you might expect, Japan is a great destination for international business travelers, but cultural differences can create obstacles for successful international business ventures. When traveling anywhere on business, including Japan, it is important for travelers to research the cultural norms and practices surrounding business meetings.
In 2015, TripleLights launched an online travel guide, written by Japanese writers, to help business travelers plan their trips. It is an excellent resource for any business traveler to Japan to consider whether they want to gain a deeper or broader understanding of Japanese culture and the history and geography of the country. TripleLights founder Naoaki Hashimoto offers his advice for business visitors to Japan.
Develop personal relationships
Cultivating personal relationships with others will be crucial to your success, as Japanese culture makes personal touch important in developing a business relationship. Strive to network as high up in the organization as possible. Enlist the help of well-connected, local people to make the necessary presentations for you.
After work, many Japanese businessmen go to bars to chat, drink, and have a snack or meal together. This is part of the process of developing personal relationships with your business partners. As a visitor, it will be important to join in if you are invited and participate, even if you are not very hungry.
While personal connections are important, Japanese entrepreneurs generally don’t talk in great detail about family or personal life. In particular, avoid bringing money or your salary. Instead, cultivate these relationships by discussing other topics, and over time, you can naturally learn more about the personalities of your counterparts.
Punctuality and formality
The pace of business is precise and punctual, with an expectation of punctuality that permeates the corporate culture in Japan. Most meeting attendees arrive at least 10 minutes before a scheduled meeting to make a favorable impression. Business social events start exactly on time too, so being late is looked down upon.
Physical contact such as shaking hands is not common with Japanese businessmen. Instead, it’s more common for business colleagues to bow briefly when greeting or passing each other. Bowing down is a sign of respect and courtesy. When bending over, men should keep their hands along the side of their bodies, and women should keep their hands crossed with their arms down in front of their bodies. Unless you want to apologize, don’t raise your hands to chest level in a classic prayer position.
Status is important in Japanese corporate culture, so it helps to have at least one member of your senior management team. At the beginning of meetings, it helps to exchange business cards to clarify the hierarchy. In addition, it can also be an advantage to mention college degrees that you have during the presentations.
The appearance and presentation of promotional materials are considered very important and will be subject to scrutiny. Carefully place the documents on a table. Never casually throw or dump business documents on a table.
Show of respect
In Japan, people commonly avoid saying “no” directly, instead a “no” can be disguised by saying “maybe” or “we’ll see.” It is important to understand that such candor would be considered disrespectful, even a direct eye. contact can be taken as a sign of disrespect.
Handshake offers are rare in Japan. Usually the person with the highest authority makes the final decision, and final decisions are always followed by a written agreement.
Tips for business lunches
When dining with business partners in Japan, it is considered rude to serve your own drink, especially beer. It is better to wait and allow others to serve you your drink.
One style of Japanese food is Nabe, which consists of sharing a large pot of food from which several people eat. Sharing the same dish is often considered a sign of closeness or comfort between people. This is a positive sign among business colleagues.
Acceptable topics for conversation
As is always the case when you are the visitor in a foreign country, it is a sign of respect and good manners to direct conversation topics to topics that show your interest in learning more about the country and its culture. When meeting your Japanese counterparts in a business setting, ask about local sights and sights or what features or cuisine the local area is known for within Japan. Research Japanese art and history and ask about local attractions where you can get more information.
Another comfortable topic of conversation that is always acceptable is food and drink. This is a good opportunity to learn about the local cuisine and drinking customs. Sport is another universally understood topic, and for an American traveler, baseball is a great topic because it is a sport that Japan shares an interest in.
On the other hand, some topics you may want to avoid include religion and politics, all things money and foreign affairs, particularly Japan’s relations with China and Korea.