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.
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 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.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in Japan only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.