Business etiquette

Doing business in Japan

Business etiquette

The Japanese business world is centred around respect and loyalty. Punctuality and politeness are keys to success in Japanese business, as are properly formatted business cards (meishi).

While foreigners are not subject to every minute detail of Japanese business culture (you will not be expected to know how deep to bow to co-workers and clients, for example), make sure to have a ready supply of properly-formatted Japanese business cards.

Exchanging business cards is an important and formal process in Japan. If handled poorly, a card exchange can set a negative tone for all future business.

Your Japanese business card should be double-sided, with kanji characters on the front and romanized Japanese (romaji) or English characters on the back. The most prominent feature on a business card should be the company name, followed by your job title and your name. Toward the bottom of the card you should print all your relevant contact information.

Exchanges of business cards open meetings between all new partners and clients.

When presenting a business card to a Japanese partner or client, hold the card by the top corners. The recipient will take the card by the bottom corners. He will examine the card, thank you, and then bow.

Never cover any information on a business card, regardless of whether you are presenting or receiving. Japanese businesspeople view this as an insult. Likewise, you should never write on, bend, fold, or pocket a Japanese business card. These are all signs of extreme disrespect. In Japan, your treatment of a client´s business card reflects your respect for him, and will affect business relationships accordingly.

Keep your business cards in a leather carrying case, with the most recently received cards filed in the back. During meetings, keep your client´s card out on top of your carrying case. If you are meeting with multiple people, keep the highest ranking person´s card on your case and the others nearby on the table.

Japanese business culture

As a rule, you should be as polite as possible during business meetings in Japan. Refrain from publicly contradicting or correcting employees, co-workers, or clients. If it is absolutely necessary, be as gentle as possible. In Japan, losing public face is considered shameful and deeply embarrassing. The goal of every meeting should be to move forward by working together to achieve consensus, not gain an advantage through adversarial negotiation.

Always arrive early to meetings, and notify your clients at least an hour in advance if you think there is even a chance you will be late.

In many situations, you will find following the lead of your Japanese co-workers helpful. In meetings, for instance, wait to be seated. There is a seating hierarchy at all Japanese business meetings, and waiting to be seated ensures you will not end up out of place.

Further reading

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