In Tokyo, and anywhere else in Japan, you must be aware of cultural differences before doing business. The Japanese put high importance in expected behavior and status. Doing business in Tokyo means understanding their traditional customs and that their business etiquette has been built over generations.
- Formality is expected at all times during business meetings. When meeting for the first time, you must introduce yourself, giving your full name, the name of your company and your title. You will then be introduced to your Japanese counterparts based on hierarchy. You are not expected to bow but you should nod your head while shaking their hand, which is a symbolic gesture to replace bowing.
- Remember that shoes are removed when entering homes, restaurants and even some offices. Tipping is not expected and business clothes should always be conservative yet smart.
- Business cards (meishi) are very important to the Japanese and you would not be taken seriously if you come without them. You need to have cards that are printed in English on one side and in Japanese on the other side. Present your business card using both hands with the Japanese-language side up. When accepting a business card from your Japanese counterpart, make sure that you accept it with both hands, say “thank you” and study the card in detail. Place the card on the table in front of you during the meeting and collect all of them when the meeting ends. Do no write anything on the business cards that you have received.
- Address colleagues by their last names and add “san” to the end.
- Come to a business meeting smartly dressed in a formal business suit. Popular colors for coats are black, gray, brown and blue. Blue or white shirts are popular as well. Men should avoid wearing black ties and women, preferred to wear blouses and skirts paired with high heels, should also avoid an all-black look, since black is a funeral clothing for them. Dressing conservatively, both for men and women is a must.
- Business negotiations could be frustrating. Decisions are reached when all the stages of the hierarchy have given their blessing. Meetings are always conducted with a team, as each member has a say in the final decision. Since the Japanese are very detail oriented, you should expect lots of questions, including personal questions as this is their way of checking your reliability and integrity.
- Establishing a mutually respectful relationship is very important to the Japanese. Do not ask negatively-phrased questions, do not look at them directly in the eyes, and do not laugh in the middle of discussions. Smiling is acceptable though.
- The Japanese place great importance on exchanging gifts so bring gifts for your hosts as well as for assistants and other subordinates. The gifts need not be expensive but they should be nicely wrapped. It is preferable if the gifts came from your company, but never in sets of four.
- Treat an invitation to socialize after office hours as an honor, therefore it must not be turned down. While the host is expected to pay, it will be in your favor to at least make an attempt to pay the bill. Japanese men love to drink, so it is important to at least make an effort to join them.
- Although Tokyo is very cosmopolitan, Tokyoites are very reserved when there are foreigners around and would generally hesitate to speak English. Therefore to avoid misunderstandings, it is advisable to have a professional interpreter with you.
These are some of the most important business tips to remember when doing business in Tokyo. Keep in mind that you will have better chances of business success if your Japanese colleagues spend more time with you.
We would love to hear from you. If you have more tips that you wish to share, send them in using the comment box below. Your participation in the discussion is greatly appreciated.