Doing business with a Japanese client has always been misunderstood to be too hard because of the Japanese business culture. People often foster fear of starting their businesses in Japan because of some formed opinion about strict cultural values that may get in the way of business. They would rather deal with a middle man or a distributor.
However, such talks have no basis, and doing business in the Japanese market is no different from how you would conduct business in other climes. While meeting with a Japanese counterpart, there are simple things you should have at the back of your mind that will help you boost your chances of closing that deal and making that big sale.
In this short article, we want to show you why doing business in Japan is not only possible, but straightforward and not as hard as one may think. We will share crucial Japanese business etiquettes that will guide you on how to comport yourself and fit in the Japanese business landscape while also making the best of meetings, negotiations, and making successful sales in Japan.
Be sure to check out our Japanese translation services when you finish this list, in order to take the next step and travel to Japan in your quest for global expansion.
Important Japanese Business Etiquette You Shouldn't forget
Don’t Be The First To Sit!
So, you had just walked into a meeting with a Japanese client, or maybe you are just visiting. Professional business etiquettes demand that you wait for your host to say, “please, have a seat” before you take a seat. This is not an all “Japanese business etiquette thing,” it is what’s expected of you everywhere in any formal meeting. Always have it at the back of your mind that the Japanese place much value on courtesy and respect for seniors or elders (whether by age or position).
Seating Arrangements in A Meeting
Just as we have it in the west and other parts of the world, the Japanese business culture also recognizes hierarchy in its sitting arrangements. It’s also worth mentioning that the Japanese place much importance on sitting in order of high-ranking or more experienced individuals to low ranking employees. Likewise, guests are also treated similarly; you sit according to your status.
Hence, the Japanese business culture weighs significantly on status in business and social relationships. Also, another vital thing to note is that the highest-ranking person (often regarded as the Number one) sits next to the leader of the meeting or gicho (議長) of the meeting, and the sitting arrangements vary with different layouts. Hopefully, the picture below demonstrates this point.
Remember To Take Off That Coat!
One often overlooked Japanese business etiquette is taking off your coat outside the building or the meeting room. You should always remember to take off your coat while outside the office or meeting room in order not to obstruct others from moving freely in the walkway or lobby.
In Japanese business etiquette, it’s regarded as a professional practice to fold your coat around your arm before entering the meeting room, and you can leave your suit jacket on if you are wearing one.
Learn Some Japanese Business Phrases
You don’t have to fluent at speaking Japanese to get your message across to whomever you are meeting with. Occasionally using a Japanese phrase to communicate with your Japanese client shows that you take their culture seriously, and you are making efforts to understand more.
You can start by picking up phrases you could use for exchanging business cards, greetings, and for showing affirmations during business conversations.
Ohayou gozaimasu – Good Morning.
O-genki desu ka – How are you?
Genki desu – I'm fine, thank you.
Hai – Yes.
lie – No.
O-negai shimasu – Please.
Arigato – Thank You.
These should get you by pretty well. This particular Japanese business etiquette will help create lasting impressions on your clients.
Exchanging Cards: Always Place Your Card Below
While exchanging business cards with a client, ensure that your card is placed below theirs. Why? It’s common Japanese business etiquette of showing respect to your counterpart. Another answer is that Its simple logic - putting your card above theirs blocks theirs and also implies that yours is more important, and you wouldn’t want your client to have such an impression about you.
However, if you are caught up in an impromptu business card exchange competition and both of you are committed to observing this etiquette, it is advised that you attempt putting yours on the bottom at least three times before giving in (to accept his or her card underneath yours).
Understand The Japanese Business Card System!
Having exchanged business cards with your Japanese client, be careful not to immediately put it away in your cardholder or stash it in your briefcase.
Japanese business etiquette expects that you let the card sit on the desk or table for some time before keeping it away. Why? Well, immediately putting the card in your briefcase comes off as putting the card away and not giving it the respect it deserves, while allowing the card to sit in the table for too long implies forgetfulness.
Here is how to go about it! Leave the card on the table until the meeting starts to wind down. It’s best to pick it up from the desk or table when your client or anyone else isn’t paying attention - maybe when he or she is trying to write something down or is going through a document. So, try to get your timing right!
Don’t Sip Your Tea Until They Do!
It’s customary to serve tea at Japanese meetings. Tea is often served by the lower-ranking employee in the room - however, this may not be the case if the company has a dedicated receptionist.
When you are served tea at a Japanese business meeting, don’t rush to take a sip. Your clients or counterparts may form an opinion about you as the guy that’s after free food rather than the meeting or the subject of discussion.
Ensure that you wait for your client to take a sip before you follow suit. If you think about it, it’s not such a bad idea to wait as the tea is often served scalding hot, and you wouldn’t want to burn your tongue.
Seeing Your Guest Off
After meeting with a Japanese client, you are expected to walk them to the door before saying goodbye. However, if your client needs to take the elevator, Japanese business etiquette demands that you walk them to the elevator (not the front door). Call the elevator and wait for it to arrive - don’t leave them waiting alone, wait together!
Also, ensure that you say goodbye as they board the elevator. Since bowing is such an aspect of showing respect to guests and high-ranking individuals or elders, it will be a plus for your deal and also create lasting impression to bow in reverence and wait until the elevator door closes.
Now, the question will be, how long do you have to bow before the elevator close?
At first, this will pose some challenges but over time you will get the timing right so that you don’t stay bowing for long because this Japanese business etiquette could lead to pain in the lower back and neck if prolonged - you also don’t want to leave an awkward view of the top of your head for so long.
Adopting the right Japanese business etiquette is an effective means of fostering lasting business relationships and a conducive business atmosphere.
On the same note, it promotes cooperation and opens doors for future deals. We could go on and on about Japanese business etiquettes, however, don’t let the list overwhelm you. It may interest you to know that even Japan-born and raised individuals don’t know all the Japanese business etiquette. So, take the much you can and make good use of it.
And if you're ready to take the next step and travel to Japan to expand your business, we can assist you in every step of the way. From the translation of your emails, to the in-person interpreting for your meetings, and the localization of your product for your new market.