Relationships drive business in Japan. Without the right depth of relationships with the right people, it can be very difficult to achieve anything.
It is important to show respect appropriately. Age brings dignity and should be respected. It is probable, therefore, that more will be achieved with a delegation that contains some older members.
Try to be polite and diplomatic at all times. Avoid showing irritation, annoyance or impatience. These negative emotions could put a strain on the development of the relationship.
Avoid putting the Japanese in situations where they might be forced to lose face. Do not try to push for decisions or deadlines.
Decisions are arrived at through a lengthy consensus-building process. As it is almost impossible to speed up this process, patience is needed.
Perform as many favours for people as possible. Favours must always be repaid.
Be humble and apologetic rather than arrogant and brash. Modesty is a characteristic much admired whereas forwardness and being overly self-confident can be seen as childish behaviour.
As the Japanese are loath to say no or disagree, it can be very difficult to be completely confident that a decision or agreement has been reached.
Do not overestimate the levels of comprehension when speaking English in Japan. There are many fluent speakers of English but many people do not understand even when they indicate that they have.
Go over the same point several times from different angles to check the situation. Ask lots of open questions to test for understanding.
Oral agreements carry as much weight as written contracts. In a relationship-driven society, it is the quality of relationships which will determine events rather than legal niceties.
Do not speak well of yourself but be very positive about your organisation and the department or team to which you belong. Never make disparaging comments about your own company – even in jest.
Humour should be avoided during serious business meetings where it will be viewed as out of place. Humour will, in any case, probably not be comprehensible.
Avoid strong eye contact which can be seen as threatening or hostile behaviour.
Body language is minimal and it can be very difficult to gauge progress made or the general sentiment of a meeting.
Show an interest in your contact as a person. An interest in family, hobbies, health etc. can help to cement a relationship.
Always take gifts to give to key contacts. Gifts need not be too expensive but should always be wrapped.
Dress well, but conservatively. Appearance is very important and you are likely to be judged on how you look.
If entertaining, entertain as well as possible. Remember that a good deal of the relationship-building process takes place over meals.
If confused or in doubt when working in Japan, try not to react immediately. Try to buy some time and reflect on the situation overnight or seek advice from colleagues or other Japanese contacts.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
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: