Some Japanese Business Culture and Etiquette You Should Know

Our interactions with Japanese people, businesses, and society will benefit from your familiarity with these factors and their influence on Japanese culture.

Japanese business etiquette

  • Address Japanese People Correctly

Family names in Japan, as in many other regions of Asia, come before the individual’s given name. While the English equivalents of Mr., Mrs., and Ms. are limited to one gender, san can be used for either gender or works equally well with either a family name or a given name. But never refer to yourself as san. You should use a person’s surname unless you are specifically told to use their first name.

  • Proper attire

The Japanese have a fondness for formal attire because they value outward appearance. There is more of an emphasis on conformity in the workplace than on expressing one’s unique personality through clothing. Men should dress formally in dark suits, ties, and white shirts. Men shouldn’t wear too much jewelry; a watch and a wedding ring are enough. Women should wear conservative clothing as well, with neutral tones.

Being on time means being 10 minutes early!

  • Be 10 minutes early!

Being on time is considered late in Japan. It would be best if you were 10 minutes earlier than the meeting time.  This highlights the significance of punctuality when attending business meetings. Make sure you know where you’re going before setting off on your trip, and this is especially important if your appointment is in the morning and you’ll have to deal with crowded trains. If you have the time, swinging by the meeting location the day before the scheduled meeting is not a bad idea.

  • Exchange of Business Cards

Japan has a specific protocol for exchanging business cards (meishi) during first meetings. It helps the Japanese swiftly ascertain their counterpart’s crucial position, title, and status. It is proper etiquette to exchange business cards while both parties are still standing. When exchanging, it is customary to bend slightly to show respect. Do not just toss the card in a pocket without briefly reviewing the names and titles and, if time allows, make a comment. Put it on the table in front of you if you’ll be seated for the meeting. Arrange the cards with the higher-ranking person on top and their subordinates below or to the left.

  • Prepare your Marketing Materials

Your company’s introduction is a crucial part of your presentation. The Japanese culture relies heavily on paper. A paper copy of a document, presentation, or brochure is essential for handing out to potential business partners.


It also helps to invest time and cash in translating into Japanese. A presentation like this indicates that you care about the details and respect your peers, even if everyone you’re meeting with speaks English fluently. Whatever the case, it’s always easier to convince someone to consider your suggestion if you do it in their native tongue.


Remember that Japanese firms appreciate the information that may appear trivial to you. It should include the following:

  • Company’s founding date
  • Initial investment
  • Personnel count (this speaks for the company’s size, reach, and potential)
  • Products and services
  • Names and contact information of the company’s founder and any partners (together with their titles)
  • Present clients

Even if the people you’re meeting with have heard all this before from you in talks leading up to the meeting, bringing physical copies is a good idea.

You should be as specific and straightforward as possible in your brochure’s description of your needs.

Lastly, emphasize your business model and clarify how your target audience will appreciate working with you.

  • Business Networking

In Japan, there is no such thing as a finished meeting. The ambiance is unique. There is a strong tendency for business gatherings to move to bars and pubs. In Japan, food and wine are used to break the ice between strangers. This allows you to get to know the actual person behind the business relationship. You shouldn’t worry too much about being assessed too harshly during the more lighthearted parts of the meetings; this is your moment to sell yourself to your colleagues.

You may probably be required to drink on numerous occasions (likely a lot). You certainly don’t have to. It’s best to say yes or no when someone offers you a cup of sake, so there are no awkward moments. It’s the same if you have food allergies or dietary limitations.

"Otsumami" - a bite size snack:

The Japanese have a highly unique culture and approach to social and commercial relationships. Do your research on the local business norms and practices before taking any chances.  Contact us for some help.

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