Punctuality is important — it shows respect for the attendees. However, due to the consensus nature of decision making in Japan, it can very often be difficult to determine a finish time.

Always allow slightly more time than you think might be necessary to achieve your goals.

Meetings are often preceded by long, non-business polite conversation which could cover such topics as mutual contacts, the merits of your company, Japanese food etc. Do not become exasperated by this use of your time, as it is an essential element of the relationship-building process. Show your impatience at your peril.

The concept of wa, which is probably best described by the English word harmony, lies at the heart of the Japanese approach to meetings. Although it is important to search for a solution, this must not be achieved at the expense of disturbing the peace. No individual will wish to proffer a strong opinion, which might cause some form of confrontation and therefore affect wa.

Japanese decisions are reached through a process of consensus-building meetings, each of which is concerned with the preservation of wa. This means that the decision-making process can seem very long and drawn out. Patience is essential in these situations, as to show impatience could have an adverse effect on the all-important wa.

Business Cards
It is important, when doing business in Japan, to have a plentiful supply of business cards – with information printed on the back in Japanese.

Cards are presented at an early stage in a formal manner. Present and receive the card with two hands. (Present your card Japanese side up.)

Treat your Japanese contacts card with respect – the card is the man. Don’t write on it or leave it behind, as this would show disrespect. During the meeting, place the cards carefully on the table in front of you with the senior persons’ card on the top.

Gift Giving
Gift giving is an endemic part of Japanese business life and should not be confused with notions of bribery and corruption. Gifts should not be too lavish but should always be of good quality. It is important to take a number of small gifts to Japan to distribute to new and existing contacts.

Gifts should always be wrapped. Avoid giving gifts in quantities of four or nine as these are unlucky numbers. Anything sharp could signify the desire to end a relationship.

Alcohol, especially good single malt whiskey, is always an appreciated gift.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Japan

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

Japan – a decades old paradox. Ultimately modern; completely traditional.

It has perplexed observers for decades as to how Japan can be so advanced in terms of technology and infrastructure whilst at the same time being wedded to traditional cultural approaches to all things corporate. Japanese companies are at the same time innovative and disruptive whilst retaining strong alignment to traditional hierarchical structures, risk aversion and detail obsession. How does Japan retain its position in the global economic league tables when it seems to stubbornly refuses to move with the latest corporate thinking?

The question continues to be asked as to whether it is really possible to do business in Japan as a foreign entity or are things so weighted against foreign entrants that it really isn’t worth the effort. The answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’ as many companies have entered the Japanese market and had great success. However, many companies have also failed to crack the Japanese market.

So what is the key to doing business in Japan in a successful and sustainable manner? At Global Business Culture we strongly believe that understanding Japanese business culture is the key to success. How can Japan be innovative and traditional? The answer is ‘culture’. How can Japanese companies retain strong alignment to hierarchy and remain efficient? The answer is ‘culture’.

Looking at Japanese business culture is not a ‘nice to do’ it’s a definite ‘need to do’. Take the time to really understand the key drivers of your Japanese colleagues, clients and other stakeholder and you will find the benefits obvious and immediate.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Japanese business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips