Business Etiquette in Japan

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By Dzhingarov

Japanese business culture emphasizes agreement and consensus as essential components to its success, which means meetings may often last much longer than their Western counterparts. Furthermore, deadlines must be respected.

If you receive a business card from Japanese colleagues, do not immediately place it into your case – doing so could appear impolite and discourteous.


As when doing business in Japan, remember their culture is highly formalized and ritualized. Relationships are of great value in Japan; expect to invest time building relationships. Also keep in mind the strong emphasis that Japanese place on rank and seniority which can present some challenges to Western businesspeople when meeting Japanese counterparts; rather than shaking hands when greeting your Japanese counterparts it is appropriate to bow rather than shake hands with more senior persons bowing more deeply than junior ones; in this instance it would be best to inquire with your host as to the appropriate greeting before arriving on site.

At meetings, it is appropriate to bow when greeting each other and greeting a Japanese counterpart. However, grasping someone’s hand could be perceived as aggressive – rather offer your business card and bow slightly while doing so; this gesture shows respect and humility. Furthermore, dressing formally and never wearing anything that might be considered flashy are essential requirements of Japanese society.

Japanese business etiquette emphasizes the custom of giving gifts. It is considered appropriate to give Japanese colleagues small treats such as cakes or chocolate before or after meetings as an act of good etiquette. Furthermore, you should always arrive ten minutes early to meetings – or else arrange to reschedule.

Japanese businesspeople generally avoid confrontation, preferring indirect questions over direct ones. Furthermore, they are quite reserved and shy, which makes communication in meetings challenging. Therefore it is advisable to maintain a low tone of voice so as to not come off as rude; additionally it’s advisable to pause between each point and speak slowly when speaking out loud.

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Keep in mind that Japanese culture values consensus, so their decision-making processes may take longer than in Western cultures. They believe taking their time in reaching an agreement strengthens relationships and increases the chance of successful negotiations.

Business cards

Meishi (business cards in Japanese) are an integral component of Japanese business culture. Exchanged before and during meetings, they should always be given with an elegant bow. Not only do meishi provide useful information exchange between meetings but they also reflect your status within a company; therefore it is crucial that they are always presented properly and carried around in an appropriate card case for this purpose.

Writing on other people’s cards is considered impolite, so it is best to keep them clean and orderly. When receiving a meishi card it is best to hold both hands together while reading carefully both sides; many names appear one side while their job titles on another; in order to better understand who you are meeting you need to read both sides!

An effective business card should include your name, title, department name, contact details (phone, fax and email), slogan/tagline of your company as well as its QR code for maximum exposure.

When exchanging meishi, it is important to observe a hierarchical order when distributing and receiving cards. Furthermore, remembering not to place stacks of cards on tables for others to access could be inappropriate; and reading each person’s meishi carefully requires taking time and concentration.

At business meetings, it is customary to place your meishi face down on the table in front of you in accordance with seating arrangements. Once a meeting has concluded, place all cards away neatly after discarding those received; avoid stuffing them into pockets as this demonstrates disrespect; forgetting someone’s business card can be highly offensive; therefore always bring all cards you receive at meetings with you.

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Seating arrangements

Seating arrangements are an integral component of Japanese business etiquette, reflecting their strong culture of hierarchy and respect for superiors and guests alike. Seating protocol also serves to highlight the significance of any event – yet can often be confusing for foreigners who may fail to abide by these unspoken rules, causing embarrassment or losing face as a result of misusing them.

Traditionally, the most senior person in a room should sit closest to the door in order to ensure they are the last people affected when anyone enters or leaves; it also shows respect and courtesy towards the host. After them come the second-most senior individual seated in the center of the table followed by guests of decreasing rank seated in descending order and ultimately the lowest ranked sitting at the end.

Seating arrangements are an essential aspect of Japanese meetings and should be adhered to in detail. Failure to observe proper seating arrangements could lead to face loss and create an adverse impression in their minds. Furthermore, always arrive for meetings on time – arriving late will be taken very seriously by those attending and should always aim to arrive 10-20 minutes early if meeting someone of high status.

Make time to familiarize yourself with some basic Japanese business etiquette, too. For instance, bow when entering and leaving a room or meeting; appropriate bows include an eshaku bow (light and short, about 15 degrees) and keirei (about 30 degrees), with Sakeirei being reserved for special or ceremonial events or moments when an apology needs to be offered.

Forming relationships with Japanese business partners is crucial in the long run, which is why so many dinners in Japan take place over drinks and food rather than conferences rooms. This provides the perfect opportunity to get to know them better while building trust. Furthermore, dinner parties also allow participants to practice socializing skills if there is a language barrier present.

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Understanding Japanese business etiquette may be difficult for those unfamiliar with living or working there, yet adapting to cultural norms is vital if you’re to build relationships effectively with Japanese coworkers. Many foreigners may find these rules confusing or frustrating – however they’re an integral part of Japanese life that should be adhered to as best you can.

Japanese business culture is highly formal and conservative. It emphasizes group harmony and respect for senior members in its work culture, so offensive remarks must be avoided during meetings; similarly, discussing your family in business situations is improper and you should always follow the lead of the most senior person present.

As soon as meeting with someone Japanese, make sure you prepare business cards in advance. When meeting, ensure the card features both English and Japanese text on its two sides, with Japanese presented facing up. In Japan, business cards are highly regarded and being kept until meeting concludes is seen as a mark of respect – remember to put their card back into its holder after each meeting!

At business dinners, punctuality is of utmost importance. Japanese culture views being late as rude; being there 15 minutes early shows respect. If possible, try arriving 15 minutes earlier.

Japanese society is highly affluent, and they expect their guests to dress accordingly. When visiting Japan between October-April or May-September it is recommended to wear either a dark suit and white shirt with subdued tie, or grey suit for business dinners – smoking and wearing revealing clothing should also be avoided as much as possible.

When meeting with senior members of a company in Japan, it is essential to keep in mind their culture is very hierarchical and that people who appear disrespectful or insensitive should not be approached too directly; be wary when dealing with them!