Business men travel pretty often in different countries, having contact with foreign partners. Since a lot of etiquettes differ from country to country, a normal gesture in one part of the globe can be extremely offensive in another culture. This is why businessmen need to understand the traditions, because this is the only way that can guarantee professional success.
Business etiquette in Japan is not that different from other parts of the world. Being polite and having good manners are the most fundamental things in Asia, Europe and USA. However, there are certain aspects that are very traditional compared to other countries.
How to greet
Starting with the first thing you need to do at a meeting, greetings and introductions are hard. The most important element is the bowing. Sometimes they will offer a handshake instead, but you need to be prepared. When you return a bow, your back must be straight and your hands at the sides. Sometimes both bow and headshake are used at the same time and that can be quite a challenge, because you may end up bumping heads.
Avoid wearing your hands in your pockets. It means you treat them with no respect and lack of interest. Try to use some Japanese expressions in order to show them you are an open person and you are interested in having a further collaboration with them.
The most important aspect and the first thing people pay attention to is the clothing. It plays an extremely important role in business. Not only you need to respect the culture of your partners, but in some countries, clothing is fundamental when it comes to an eventual collaboration. This is Japan’s case as well.
Women need to wear skirts that cover their knees and elbows. Also, it is indicated that shirts are worn at the neck level as well. A woman that wears trousers in Japan is not inspiring a lot of confidence. Furthermore, the colors that are preferred are the neutral ones, like white, black or brown. It must be added that many Japanese men are not in good relations with powerful women, which represents a disadvantage for CEO women in general. If you want to avoid to be seen as a “secretary”, it is recommended to wear shorter hair and suits with trousers in the season’s colors, just like men.
It is always easier when it comes to men’s clothing. They need to wear dark suits with a white shirt and a tie in October to April. From May to September, a gray suit is required.
Summers in Japan are very hot, with a high humidity and most men wear shirts with short sleeves in that period of time. They never wear black suits and black ties, because that is the code for funerals. Japanese companies do not allow men to wear a beard or shave their heads.
This is not necessary related to business etiquette in Japan, but you need to call one or two hours before a planned meeting in order to confirm that you are on your way. However, if you are running late, it is good to call at least one hour before to allow the client to reschedule the meeting.
It is always better to be there 10 minutes earlier, especially if you will meet with a person of a higher rank. You must plan an exact agenda for the meeting. If your Japanese partner tells you that the meeting must end at a certain time, probably you will not be able to extend it, because they are very strict with employees’ schedules.
You need to wait to be invited to take a seat in the meetings room, because it is a tradition regarding the seat that the participant must occupy in a certain area of the table. (The tradition dates since the era of samurais). It is also recommended to take as many notes as possible during a meeting. This shows you are interested, and Japanese people are taught to take notes at every meeting. They never forget the problems discussed in other meetings from the past and it is better if you remember all the aspects as well.
Business cards in Japanese
When we talk about business etiquette, business cards are a must. Take at least 100 cards for the business trip in Japan. They must be printed on both sides. One side has to been in Japanese and the other in English. Always present your business card by holding it with your both hands with the text in Japanese.
When you are offered a business card, accept it with respect, using both of your hands as well and say thank you in Japanese if possible: “Hajimemashite”.
Never take notes on a business card and don’t forget to take all the business cards received after the meeting. When you forget about them, the message you send is that you do not take them into consideration.
Never blow your nose in public. Don’t shake hands at the first meeting. Most Japanese shake hands extremely rare and this thing can be uncomfortable for them and they may avoid another meeting. Don’t disrespect your employees in front of Japanese potential partners. As hard as it may sound, you need to smile all the time, be pleasant and willing to learn, ask many questions about the company (and none about their personal life).
Try to avoid pointing at people with a finger. In Japan this habit is considered extremely rude. When you want to offer a gift, keep in mind that the numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky in Japanese culture. Don’t give gifts that have anything related to that numbers. When you are in a public place, tipping is considered a rude habit in Japan, so don’t do that.
Remember that it is a great honor if you are invited to someone’s home. When this happens, you might want to read some about dining etiquette in Japan.