Spotlight On Japan
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The People: Japan is a highly structured
and traditional society. Great importance is placed on loyalty,
politeness, personal responsibility and on everyone working
together for the good of the larger group. Education, ambition,
hard work, patience and determination are held in the highest
regard. The crime rate is one of the lowest in the world.
Meeting and Greeting
- A handshake is appropriate upon meeting.
The Japanese handshake is limp and with little or no eye
- Some Japanese bow and shake hands. The
bow is a highly regarded greeting to show respect and
is appreciated by the Japanese. A slight bow to show courtesy
- Nodding is very important. When listening
to Japanese speak, especially in English, you should nod
to show you are listening and understanding the speaker.
- Silence is a natural and expected form
of non-verbal communication. Do not feel a need to chatter.
- Do not stand close to a Japanese person.
- Prolonged eye contact (staring) is considered
- Don’t show affection, such as hugging
or shoulder slapping, in public.
- Never beckon with your forefinger. The
Japanese extend their right arm out in front, bending
the wrist down, waving fingers. Do not beckon older people.
- Sit erect with both feet on the floor.
Never sit with ankle over knee.
- Waving a hand back and forth with palm
forward in front of face means "no" or "I
don't know." This is a polite response to a compliment.
- Never point at someone with four fingers
spread out and thumb folded in.
- Punctuality is a must in all business
and social meetings.
- Any degree of knowledge of Japanese culture
is greatly appreciated.
- Japanese may exchange business cards
even before they shake hands or bow. Be certain your business
card clearly states your rank. This will determine who
your negotiating counterpart should be.
- Bear in mind that initial negotiations
begin with middle managers. Do not attempt to go over
their heads to senior management.
- It is acceptable to use a Japanese company
interpreter in the first meeting. Once negotiations begin,
hire your own interpreter.
- Both business and personal relationships
are hierarchical. Older people have higher status than
younger, men higher than women and senior executives higher
than junior executives.
- It is very important to send a manager
of the same rank to meet with a Japanese colleague. Title
is very important.
- Work is always undertaken as a group.
The workgroup is strongly united with no competition;
all succeed or all fail. Decision-making is by consensus.
Everyone on the work team must be consulted before making
decisions. This is a very slow process.
- The first meeting may focus on establishing
an atmosphere of friendliness, harmony and trust. Business
meetings are conducted formally, so leave your humor behind.
Always allow ten minutes of polite conversation before
beginning business meetings.
- It takes several meetings to develop
a contract. When the time comes, be content to close a
deal with a handshake. Leave the signing of the written
contract to later meetings.
- Etiquette and harmony are very important.
"Saving face" is a key concept. Japanese are
anxious to avoid unpleasantness and confrontation. Try
to avoid saying "no." Instead, say, "This
could be very difficult," allowing colleagues to
- Proper introduction to business contacts
is a must. The introducer becomes a guarantor for the
person being introduced.
- Do not bring a lawyer. It is important to build business relationships based on trust. The
Japanese do not like complicated legal documents. Write
contracts that cover essential points.
Dining and Entertainment
- Restaurant entertaining is crucial to
business. A person is judged by his/her behavior during
and after business hours. Seldom is a business deal completed
without dinner in a restaurant.
- Drinking is a group activity. Do not
say "no" when offered a drink.
- An empty glass is the equivalent of asking
for another drink. Keep your glass at least half full
if you do not want more. If a Japanese person attempts
to pour more and you do not want it, put your hand over
your glass, or fill it with water if necessary.
- An empty plate signals a desire for more
food. Leave a little food on your plate when you are finished
- When drinking with a Japanese person,
fill his glass or cup after he has filled yours. While
he is pouring, hold your cup or glass up so he can fill
it easily. Never pour your own drink and always pour your
- Toasting is very important in Japan and
many toasts are offered during the course of an evening.
At dinner, wait for the toast before you drink. Respond
to each toast with a toast.
- Wait for the most important person (honored
guest) to begin eating. If you are the honored guest,
wait until all the food is on the table and everyone is
ready before you eat.
- When offered food, it is polite to hesitate
before accepting. You do not have to eat much, but it
is rude not to sample each dish.
- It is acceptable to slurp noodles. Some
Japanese believe that it makes them taste better.
- Do not finish your soup before eating
other foods. It should accompany your meal. Replace the
lid of the soup bowl when finished eating.
- Dress is modern and conservative. The
Japanese dress well at all times. Dress smartly for parties,
even if an invitation says "Casual" or "Come
as you are."
- For business, men should wear dark suits
and ties (subtle colors).
- Women should wear dresses, suits and
shoes with heels. Subtle colors and conservative styles
are best for business.
- The ritual of gift giving is more important
than the value of the gift.
- Allow your Japanese counterpart to initiate
the gift giving. Present a gift in a modest fashion, saying,
"This is just a small token," or "This
is an insignificant gift."
- It is very important to receive a gift
properly. Give a gift and receive a gift with both hands
and a slight bow. The Japanese may refuse a gift once
or twice before accepting it.
- Do not give anyone a gift unless you
have one for everyone present.
- Correct wrapping is very important. Appearance
counts for as much or more than the contents.
- Be prepared to give and receive a gift
at a first business meeting. Gifts are frequently given
at the end of a first meeting. Not giving a proper gift
could ruin a business relationship.
- Avoid using the number "four"
if possible. It has connotations of death to the Japanese.
- The Japanese may ask personal questions.
This is not intended to be rude, but rather a polite way
to show interest. You may give vague or general answers
if you feel a question is too personal.
- The Japanese do not express opinions
and desires openly. What they say and what they mean may
be very different.
- Do not expect a Japanese person to say
"no." "Maybe" generally means "no."
Especially for Women
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