Traditions and Japanese Business Etiquette – 10 tips!

The Japanese place a premium on politeness because of the value they place on respect. Before entering their market, learning as much as possible about their business customs is important.

Business Etiquette

A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Business Etiquette.

Understanding the cultural norms of a potential business partner country is always a good idea. Japan is no different! Those looking to break into the Japanese market would be wise to familiarize themselves with the country’s business etiquette and culture in advance, as they differ significantly from Western norms.

Here are some pointers that will assist you in understanding Japanese business etiquette.

….a single arrow is easily broken but not 10 in a bundle…..

Don’t be late!

As the cornerstone of Japanese business etiquette, promptness is a top priority in Japanese culture. Showing up on time for meetings demonstrates respect for your Japanese host, which can help build trust and lead to more productive collaboration. Some Japanese people routinely add 10 minutes to their travel time by setting their watches ahead. Appointment etiquette suggests you show up ten minutes early.


Business introductions in Japan are typically made through a mutually recognized third party, so making your introduction may be seen as out of place. Unless otherwise instructed, do not address a Japanese person by their first name.


Japan, like any other culture, has its method of greeting. Westerners can shake hands with the Japanese the way they would with anyone else but should remember that the Japanese shake hands slightly and cup the other person’s hands in theirs.

It’s also acceptable to bow, as this is the customary way of greeting in Japan; if you choose to do so, remember to bend at a 45-degree angle, with your hands straight down your abdomen if you’re a man, or hands together in front of your stomach if you’re a woman.

Documentation and Business Cards

Understanding the first rule of business in Japan is when you enter a meeting in Japan. It is to ensure that your documentation is ready and that you highlight key points and include visual supplements. In addition, make sure you have your business card folder handy. Japanese businesses prefer paperwork to verbal communication. Spreadsheets should be organized and ready, but business cards are more significant. Please make sure each side of your business cards is in English and Japanese, as it is the custom in Japan. Finally, always make sure you have enough cards available with you.

Business Cards (Meishi)

When exchanging business cards in Japan, it’s customary to take out your card, check to make sure the corners aren’t bent, then try to slide it beneath the card being presented to you. Be patient; the person handing you the card has to try to slide it under yours to give it to you. This is a sign of respect and modesty, so make sure your card is placed last. Upon receiving your card, please take a quick look and put it on the business card holder. This action is crucial because it demonstrates your value to the other person.

Building Relationships

Even more so than in the West, however, the Japanese value personal connections in the commercial world. Food and drink are fundamental to Japanese social interaction.

Modesty and humility go a long way with Japanese businesspeople, so keep that in mind. While most people in the West focus on climbing the corporate ladder as quickly as possible and earning as much money as possible, Japan operates under an entire set of values.

Among the many applicable Japanese sayings I came across, “a single arrow is readily broken but not 10 in a bundle” best encapsulates the idea that the sum of its parts is greater than the sum of its parts’ parts individually.

Never say no to an invitation to hang out after work; doing so would be rude because socializing is integral to forming bonds with Japanese coworkers.

Other Pointers to Take Note:

Honor the elders by using “Sama.”

Japanese culture values age as seniority in social and business relationships, so it is imperative always to respect senior members of any group. The suggested way to address seniors is “Sama,” which shows your appreciation for the person’s seniority and role.

Dress Code

Most men in mainstream Japanese business wear dark suits, white shirts, and traditional ties. Japanese ladies wear conservative dark suits without flashy jewelry or other adornments to show their individuality. The Japanese corporate culture expects you to present yourself in a nice, clean, and well-groomed manner at all times. As an additional precaution, try not to splash yourself with too much perfume; remember that less is more.

Consensus Building

In Japan, when a company wants to introduce something new or change the way they do something, they send out a newsletter for all employees to read and sign. If everyone agrees with the change by the time the letter reaches the boss to sign, the company can move forward with the implementation.


When it comes to business and emotion, Japanese culture is once again very different from the West’s. Keep your expression neutral, speak softly, and never say anything to make a senior member of the group look bad in front of others; doing otherwise will give the impression that you are immature and not someone they can trust in business.

Avoid using loud, violent language, and never confront another person, as the Japanese prioritize peaceful, non-confrontational interaction.
If you follow the above rules and adopt a gentler, more diplomatic approach, you should establish a solid foundation of trust with your Japanese business partners.

Some useful Japanese Business Phrases.

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu(よろしくおねがいします)
When meeting with clients, exchanging business cards or asking a colleague for a favor, it is recommended to use this phrase, accompanied with a bow. Highly used!!

Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu(おさきにしつれいします)
Many employees stay past regular office hours. In the chance that you are the first to leave, use this phrase to politely excuse yourself for the evening. It shows that you acknowledge their hard work and the fact that they are still working.

Otsukaresama desu(おつかれさまです)
This form of the phrase can be used as a means of encouragement. When you see a co-worker doing their best, you can say this to show recognition.

Otsukaresama deshita(おつかれさまでした)
This is the past tense of the previous phrase, implying that work has been completed. When you announce that you are leaving for the night, your co-workers will typically respond using this phrase.

Gochi sou sama deshita. (ごちそうさまでした。)
Thank you for the meal, that was delicious, thank you for paying for lunch/dinner (any type of food).

"Otsumami" - a bite size snack:

Try to do or say something Japanese; the effort goes a long way.
It doesn’t matter if you get it exactly right or become fluent, but make an effort to learn a few cultural norms and a handful of words in Japanese. The effort will win you huge points and go a long way in relationship-building.

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