Doing business in a foreign country is a challenging endeavour. Trying to navigate another culture’s etiquette can be a daunting prospect for a seasoned executive, never mind a business start-up.
Japan, in particular, is a country where cultural elements can have a profound effect on decision-making when it comes to the cultivation of new business relationships.
Therefore, it is vitally important for budding entrepreneurs to research and study Japanese business etiquette to ensure they make a good first impression on their potential clients or business partners.
Get your Greeting Right
When greeting a potential client for the first time it is not customary to shake hands in Japanese culture. The preferred form of greeting is bowing (unless your client offers you their hand to shake, of course). Correct form requires you to bow from the hip with a straight back. Men should place their hands by their sides while women clasp their hands in front. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets as this implies a lack of interest.
Understanding Business Card Culture
The practice of exchanging business cards in Japan is almost ritualistic in nature. This protocol, if not carefully adhered to, can cause offence to the card giver as the card is considered an extension of themselves. A business card must be presented using both hands with the writing readable to the receiver. You should, of course, have your business card in Japanese as well as your own language. It is polite to read the business card you receive and offer a positive comment. If you are seated, place the cards you have received on the table with higher ranking executives placed above those of their subordinates.
It is polite to read the business card you receive and offer a positive comment.
Seating and Hierarchy
Upon entering a meeting do not take a seat immediately. As in other cultures it is polite to wait to be offered a seat, however, in Japan there is a hierarchy to the seating order. Allow your Japanese counterparts to take their seats so as not to seem rude by taking the place of someone who outranks you. It is also customary to stand until the highest-ranking person sits or tells everyone to sit.
At the end of the meeting you should wait again for the highest-ranking member to stand before getting up from your seat.
Break Down the Language Barrier
As a foreign business owner, you should be particularly sensitive of the language barrier and the potential communication problems that could arise. If you are making a presentation, make it in Japanese, with accompanying print-outs to ensure your prospective clients can follow it. Also, having an interpreter with you is a must to clarify any more difficult points and to put both sides more at ease.
Showing respect, sensitivity and consideration goes a long way when doing business in Japan. Following the tips above, and taking your cues from your host, will give you an edge and create a positive impression of you, and your business.