Japanese Business Etiquette

by Claire Valenty on January 22, 2010

in International Business Etiquette

international japan etiquette

If your business transaction has led you to Nihon, you and your company have come a long way. While they’re pretty much dressed in the formal business convention prevalent worldwide, the Japanese have a culture and manner of social interaction unlike any other in the world. For example, if you’re given a handshake, if at all, it will be weak. If you’re invited to a social event, it’s customary to be late. Culturally, you won’t find anyone more introverted in their ways than Japanese people. The Japanese have their eye on everything from your words to your smile. In fact, in this part of the world, a smile could impart double meaning so be careful with your gestures.

Am I in trouble here? … No you’re not. You’ve just hit a metropolitan paradise. Take a deep breath, follow Japanese business etiquette and you’ll come out of a business transaction oozing success. What’s more is that it’s enjoyable to adhere to Japanese business conduct. As you’ll learn later on in detail, the Japanese greet with a bow. So it’s time to get those back muscles in order because you’ve got a lot of bowing to do!
You’re in Japan, remember that…

There are plenty of fun little facts and things you need to know about Japanese Business Etiquette. With the following account you’ll remember everything you need to know before you hit the archipelago.

An evening of Noodles and Chopsticks

Business discussions can continue with chopsticks in hands so there is no violation of Japanese Business etiquette. Japanese people don’t mind over-the-dining-table discussions. Now that things are running smoothly and you’ve been invited to join your Japanese counterparts for dinner, what do you do?

* Say “itadakimasu” when you start eating and “gochisou-sama-deshita” when you’re done. This is being polite because you’re telling your host you enjoyed dinner.
* Don’t be demanding if you’ve been invited; let the host order the meal and pay! Strange isn’t it? It’s natural here. On the other hand, if you take your host out, insist on paying. The Japanese will refuse but you must insist. And cheese burgers or the American steak will turn out to be a lot better than Sashimi. The Japanese would like you to entertain them the western way when they’re taken out.
* Toast with the word “Kampai” (pronounced “kahm-pie”)
* Never pour a drink on your own. It will always be done by someone else
* Slurp your noodles! In this part of the world, it isn’t just perfectly acceptable. It is recommended. Doing this let’s your host know you’re enjoying the meal so be free.
* Don’t mention 14 here because it translates to “Shuh-Shuh” or “Bad luck”

Done eating? Just say “Kekko- Desu” which means “I’ve had enough”.

So is the house you live in small or big? How much money do you earn?… You can be very easily asked such questions on the dinner table so don’t be touchy! Japanese people are rather direct when questioning foreigners. Receive the questions cordially and naturally. Remember, this isn’t an interrogation so don’t treat it that way. They’re just trying to get to know you and if you let them, you might be a step closer to sealing the deal.

Gifts to exchange

Gift giving is a vital part of Japanese interaction in general. So make this a part of your Japanese Business Etiquette. Don’t surprise your host with a gift! You’ve got to give him a warning during the evening that you’re going to give him a gift. Japanese don’t like surprises. Here are some points you need to know about gift giving,

* Give and accept gifts with both hands
* Refrain from giving gifts in odd numbers or the number four because the odds are considered bad luck and 4 sounds like the word “death” in Japanese. Your host may be offended
* Surprisingly, the wrapping is very important. It’s more important than the content; so show your admiration with good gift wrapping. Here, it’s not the inside that counts
* Present gifts at the end of a visit
* Top choice beef, fruit, brandy, quality whiskey or Bourbon are pretty good choices to present. Or you could go to Neiman Marcus and get something from there! They appreciate gifts from top-notch department stores.

Let’s get down to business…

The customary greeting is the bow but you might be given a hand shake in certain set-ups. Your head must go down as low as the head of the person who bowed to you. Keep your eyes low and your palms flat next to your thighs. Men should wear business suits that are dark and conservative. Women shouldn’t wear pants as Japanese men find it offensive. A conservative business dress will pretty much do for women.

Wow that was fun! Following Japanese Business Etiquette not only helps your company’s ventures but it also makes your stay in Japan worthwhile.

Photo: wikimedia commons/Okajun

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