Learning the Business Customs of Japan


The Japanese are aware of the challenges that foreigners face when in their country. Though they have some specific standards within their own culture, they do not expect foreigners to completely conform to these. They will not expect foreigners to understand or speak Japanese very well, and they may also be shy themselves if they are not fluent in your native tongue.

Japanese people like to do business with people they are personally affiliated with. It is a good idea to be introduced to Japanese business people by someone who already has an established relationship with the company.

Japanese people like to exchange seasonal and greeting cards. If you want to strengthen your relationship with the prospective business people, it is a good idea to send them cards. Shogotsu, or New Year’s Day, is the most important Japanese holiday, so you should send cards for that. You should also be consistent with corresponding with your partners.


In terms of meetings, appointments are necessary, and should be made a few weeks in advance. The best way to arrange an appointment is through the telephone, rather than fax, mail or email. You should arrive to meetings on time, as being late is considered sloppy.

Expect to meet with a group of people. You will seldom meet with individuals, as Japanese society functions in group form. Japanese business society is very hierarchical. The meeting table will be arranged where the most senior person sits the furthest away from the door, and then it goes down until the youngest person is closet to the door. You should bring with you a booklet containing information about your company. You should also bring a small gift for the senior person of the company.

You will probably have to sit through more than one meeting with Japanese business people in order for them to be comfortable enough with you to start making any decisions. You should take the time in familiarizing yourself with these people seriously, as it sets the tone for all of your future interactions. They may even give you a small amount of business to do to test out your commitments and skills.

In terms of negotiating, the Japanese are not confrontational people, and have a difficult time saying no. You should try to make your questions so that they can answer with “yes.” You should never raise your voice or lose your temper when you are negotiating with Japanese people.

Business cards are taken seriously in Japan. Your business card should have a nice design, and you should have one side translated into Japanese. You should include your title on your business card. When Japanese people give you their business cards, you should take a while to examine them.

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