10 Tips to Start a Business in Japan

Insider Tips on Building Up a Business

Starting a business
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Japanese people are known for their incomparable business etiquette and culture. This is why foreigners who would like to start a business in the country must take time to truly understand how Japanese do business. This gesture is applicable to any parts of Japan that you wish to tap into.

In Japan, Tokyo is one of the most favoured prefectures to do business in. Not only are its location and infrastructures attractive, but the support that business owners get from the local government is also unparalleled. Indeed, Tokyo is deemed as the window to Japan.

Here are some tips to ensure your smooth entrance to Tokyo’s business world.

  1. Removing your shoes is a customary act

Most of the houses and even restaurants and some offices in Japan have tatami floors where they put tatami mats for sitting instead of chairs, and they don’t like it to get dirty. This is the reason why they take off their shoes at the “genkan” or entranceway. This act is also expected of you so make sure you remember to do this as well when your hosts do it themselves.

2. Business attire must be conservative yet smart

When deciding on what colour to wear for a business meeting, avoid black for a tie, blouse, shirt, or as a head-to-toe outfit. Remember, black is a funeral colour in Japan. For suits grey, black, blue, or brown is preferred. For shirts, white or blue are very popular. Women, on the other hand, are expected to pair their blouse and skirt with high heels. These tips make both genders look smart yet conservative.

3. Formal introduction is expected during the initial meeting.

During the initial meeting, a formal self-introduction is expected of you. State your full name, company, and your designation. You will then be introduced to your Japanese counterparts according to hierarchy. While you may want to show respect by bowing, know that this gesture also has a corresponding entitlement so a slight nod of your head while shaking their hands can be used as a replacement for bowing.

4. Business cards or “Meishi” are essential if you want to be taken seriously

Another thing that you must know is the art of giving and receiving business cards. When doing business in Japan, your business card must be printed in English on one side and in Japanese on the other. When handing it to a Japanese colleague, do so with both hands with the Japanese print side up. In turn, receive theirs with both hands, look at the details thoroughly, place each on the table in front you and collect all when the meeting ends.

5. Usually, “San” is added to a colleague’s last name when addressing them

“San” is a title used when referring to a colleague regardless of gender or marital status, this is used instead of Mr, Mrs or Miss. Your colleagues surname will be followed by the title San e.g, (Surname) San. Calling somebody by just their name, without adding a title can be considered bad manners in a Japanese workplace.

6. The Japanese people like a mutually respectful business relationship

There are many ways to show respect to your Japanese colleagues. One is by avoiding negatively-phrased questions. Looking at them straight to the eyes is also a big no, no. Another is by refraining from laughing during business meetings. Smiles are accepted though.

7. Negotiations and decision-making in business can be a very long process

One thing to keep in mind about the Japanese people is how they are very detail-oriented. This is the reason why business meetings can take a long time. Each of them has a point and they tend to ask lots of questions before arriving at a common decision.

8. Don’t decline their invitation for a post-business socialization

Japanese people are very hardworking and one way for them to de-stress is by going out for a drink. So, if you’ve been invited for one, view it as an honour. While your host pays the bill, showing an attempt to pay it is appreciated.

9. Japanese people love exchanging gifts no matter how simple the presents are, but make sure not to give one in a set of four

Exchanging gifts is also popular among these people so make sure you have something for everyone. These need not be expensive because they are after the thought. However, avoid giving gifts in sets of four because the number 4 has a direct translation of “shi”, which also means death.

10. While Tokyoite businessmen are often versed in English, it is best to bring an interpreter with you

Tokyoites can be very conservative especially around foreign businessmen. This is the reason why they usually don’t speak in English when with them. So, to avoid misunderstanding, it is highly-suggested that you bring your own interpreter.

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

Respecting and being aware of Japan’s business culture opens doors to more successful communications.

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Written by Joel Devidal

Joel Devidal is a serial entrepreneur and long time fan of Japan, it's unique lifestyle, culture and delicious food . He has grown several profitable businesses during his 20+ years in small business and IT.

He focuses primarily on Japanese online marketing and Internet retail industries, investing and advising startups wanting to enter the Japanese market.

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