6 Useful Tips for Understanding Cultural Differences when Doing Business in Japan

How to identify and work through the cultural differences for successful cooperation.

Cultural Differences and Doing Business in Japan
Cultural Differences and Doing Business Successfully in Japan

We all know how beautiful Japan is, some from the pictures, some from their personal experience. The land of the Rising Sun is a whole different dimension, right here on our planet. Everything seems so different and strange but also otherworldly beautiful.

People are not an exception: they’re different in the way they address each other and the way they behave. In Japan, compliance with the cultural norms is an important issue for everyone who is living there or briefly visiting for whatever reason.

If you want to do business in Japan,  there are some crucial cultural differences that you need to understand if you want to achieve your business goals. Once you do that, you’ll soon see that Japan is an omnipotent business market, full of unseen and amazing opportunities.

Since it’s one of the most advanced countries in the world, doing business in Japan can bring you numerous advantages. However, you have to know how to reap the benefits that this outstanding and stunning country can provide. No matter if you’re looking to start a business or you already have a business in Japan, these useful tips will help you understand your business environment. In this way, you can adjust your professional approach to the local standards.

1. Cultural Etiquette is Everything

When you’re doing business in a foreign country, you need to follow certain social rules and ceremonies to blend in and maintain successful communication with your local partners. Being observant of another culture’s etiquette is the only way to maintain good business relations with your partners. Your entire business depends on it. Spoken and unspoken communication is particularly important in Japan.

Your business relationship is only as effective as your ability to comprehend how cultural elements profoundly impact the process of decision-making of your partners. Proper behavior, social conduct – these are all paramount. Careful choice of words and sophistication are mandatory if you want to effortlessly and successfully navigate your business in the foreign waters of Japan.

In Japan, one aims to be considerate of others and act with grace and civility. By showing such virtues, you’re giving away an impression of executive presence, which is very respected in Japan. Here everything you know about the cultural differences in other countries may not be applicable because Japan is not like other countries in many ways.

The more you know about acceptable behavioral patterns and the values of this country, the more you’ll be able to create a favorable and desirable impression of your business and yourself.

A hard-sell approach simply isn’t their way and it won’t succeed. Instead of choosing a confrontational and high-pressure approach, go with something more subtle.

2. Follow the Rules of Acceptable Social Behaviour

Rules of Acceptable Social Behaviour in JapanJapan is a very strict country, built upon traditional values and rules. Understanding these etiquette rules might help you to understand Japanese people better. A good example would be their “silence is golden” approach. Especially in a business setting. An overabundance of speech in a working environment won’t get you anywhere. Instead, understand that silence is often linked to productivity and more importantly, credibility.

Those who understand this will be valued by their Japanese colleagues as silence speaks volumes about emotional and self-control. Wisdom, too. When you’re at the beginning of your business relationship in Japan, going with a more formal and introverted approach would be warmly recommended. The best strategy is to do as the others do.

Learn from your Japanese coworkers and tailor your personal and professional approach to your Japanese counterparts. More talk isn’t the Japanese way, for it’s the silence that holds the key to preserving harmony. Japanese value harmony in their working environment more than everything else.

3. Group Solidarity at the Core of Communication

Japanese culture is group-oriented. Individualism isn’t looked upon as something terribly important. Instead, group solidarity adds a certain strength to the equation. It’s a cultural mindset that has been thriving for centuries. In Japan, praising one individual over the entire team is viewed as something embarrassing and could ruin everything you worked for up until that point.

If you’re giving public credit, do it for the entire team rather than singling out one individual. This is crucial to doing business in Japan, as it is immensely important to the Japanese people. To successfully conduct your business so you can develop, grow, and prosper, you must incorporate these behaviors as a part of your business strategy and professional approach.

4. Business Cards are a Must

In Japan, business professionals can’t do without their business cards. To them, it’s a professional extension of their business identity. If you mean business in Japan, there are some ingrained rules of professional and business etiquette that show respect to people you work with.

Giving your business card with both hands, with the Japanese-printed side forward, means that you have respect for the person, which will help you win their affection. This is extremely important to the Japanese as they value respect highly.

5. Respect the Seniority

One’s age is extremely important in Japan. It’s greatly respected in every aspect of life. The same goes for any business setting. It’s typical that seniors always have the last say. The Japanese greatly respect their business hierarchy. The more respect you show for your older executives, the better you’ll do.

It is, therefore, essential to treat seniors with a marked deference that you wouldn’t show to your younger colleagues. The seriousness of one’s intentions is defined through such behavior. To the Japanese, a person who acts upon this belief shows the readiness to move to a the next level of communication. Earn the seniors’ respect and your business will flourish.

6. Avoid the Hard-Sell Approach

The Japanese aren’t as compulsive in consumption as the rest of the world. They can be big spenders but on totally different terms. They don’t like that ‘in-your-face’ sales tactic that has become the norm in countries like the US. To them, a hard-sell approach simply isn’t their way and it won’t have any positive effect. Instead of choosing a confrontational and high-pressure approach, go with something more subtle.

Focus on the virtues of your proposal but do it in a persuasive and gentle way. More importantly, forget about deadlines, because pushing things might mean that you’re being disrespectful of the way Japanese conduct their business. In Japan, patience is a virtue, just like silence.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Understanding a nation’s culture is crucial for the development of good business relations – Japan has its quirks but with a bit of an effort, its peculiarities can be understood. 

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