Hou-Ren-Sou: Three Whales of Japanese Business Communication World

Hou-Ren-Sou are the principles to live by when doing business in Japan

Business people discuss at the meeting in the city.

The concept of Hou-Ren-Sou is not widely known outside Japan and, unfortunately, receives far less attention than business cards exchange culture or peculiarities of phone conversations. Yet, this is the core principle of the communication style within Japanese business and understanding of its main anchors will equip you with one of the most important soft skills a businessman in Japan may require.

What is in your name?

Hou-Ren-Sou is an abbreviation of three words: houkoku, renraku, and soudan – reporting, informing, and consulting. Funny enough, it sounds the same as the Japanese word for “spinach” and utilizing the Hou-Ren-Sou philosophy in your business communications in Japan may be seen as an equivalent of healthy nutrition for your body. This approach is used by the vast majority of companies and oftentimes it is so deeply bound into the country’s working culture that many might not know that the approach and the term itself is rather new.

These principles were drawn and coined by Tomiji Yamazaki, the former president of Yamatana Security, who used them actively within his company since 1982. After publication of his book about strengthening the companies with the Hou-Ren-Sou principles, the term became widespread in Japan and still remains a cornerstone of communication for businesses. Let us dissect these terms one by one.

Understanding of Hou-Ren-Sou principles will equip you with one of the most important soft skills a businessman in Japan may require.


Houkoku means reporting and this is the first step to smooth communication within the company. This term implies that information moves vertically upwards from subordinates to managers at every level ensuring that managers are always up-to-date with the latest developments on different assignments of every employee. What should an employee report about? Well, usually about every single change in their work, whether it is a big or a small one. No changes or recent developments? Report about that, too. By keeping information flowing in such a way managers can detect any roadblocks or problematic points and act fast to resolve them.


Renraku means informing. This type of communication balances out reporting in a way. Informing happens both vertically and horizontally and involves multiple people or departments. The idea is to keep each and every person that might be influenced by the outcomes of your work informed about the state of things on your side to predict their impact. Same as houkoku, reporting happens on the occasion of even slightest changes.


Soudan means consulting or discussion. This practice involves talking over details and asking for guidance from your superior. When your supervisor or boss gives you an assignment it is always a good idea to talk about some aspects of the assignments you might not be one hundred percent sure about. Such consultations foster connection in between different levels of employees within the company and help to develop a trustworthy and approachable image of the superiors in the eyes of their direct subordinates. At the same time, employees that received instructions or recommendations from a boss do not feel the pressure of bearing the responsibility of making decisions or taking actions that might be later seen in an unfavorable light.

Can Hou-Ren-Sou be used globally?

This is a question that has no definite answer because Hou-Ren-Sou approach has a number of positive and negative sides depending on the culture you come from. Many foreign businesses find Japanese communication culture not fast enough and quite stiff, while Japanese companies do not like to rush and try to avoid risks resulting from hasty uncontrolled actions and decisions made by employees without proper consulting or supervision from their superior.

On the one hand, good communication allows managers to react quickly when the problem occurs. Also, any problems can be detected at an early stage, since bosses are well informed about all the details. Moreover, employees also have more ownership of their tasks and schedules since all the colleagues are well aware of the assignment progress.

On the other hand, such often and detailed communication consumes a lot of working time, leaving less of it for the actual performance of one’s duties. Information travels far and wide forward and backward creating long waiting times. And since without feedback from a boss or a team an employee cannot proceed with his assignment there is a little space left for creativity and application of one’s problem-solving skills.

Do you think that Hou-Ren-Sou principles could be applied to your business? We are eager to know what you think about this approach. Please, let us know in a comment section below.

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

Аorewarned is forearmed.

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