Getting Started in Business Japanese

Japanese culture

It is well known that the Japanese are somewhat ceremonious in the way they carry out negotiations, from the initial meetings to the concluding stages. A foreigner, or 'gaijin', as the Japanese are wont to refer to westerners, may find Japanese culture and traditions so daunting that they may fight shy of pursuing the effort. Japanese culture enjoins a deep respect for elders, attention to detail and a commitment to spending time de-stressing after work.

Some of the important aspects of doing business with the Japanese include:

Pay serious attention to the business card

At the start of any business meeting, the Japanese conduct a formal exchange of business cards, which is referred to as 'meishi kokan'. The one receiving it is expected to take the card in a most deferential manner with both hands, read it carefully, speaking aloud while doing so, and then place it in a cardholder or on the table in front of them, makeing a reference to it during the course of the subsequent proceedings. It is considered disrespectful to the giver, to simply put the card in one’s pocket upon receiving it.

Be Deferential to senior staff at the workplace

The Japanese value their elders for the wisdom and experience they provide to the organisation. It is therefore customary to always address the highest-ranking person present when making the opening remarks during a meeting. It is important never to openly disagree with him or her. When bowing – which is the Japanese form of greeting -- one should always bow deepest to the senior most executive.

Avoid getting emotional

The Japanese believe in keeping their emotions in check, and abhor any display of emotion in the workplace. They speak in a low, measured tone, and will often close their eyes when paying close attention to a speaker which to the casual onlooker might appear to be a sign of boredom.

Make use of connections

It is important to establish your credentials through forming the right connections in Japan. As wsith any geography, it makes abundant business sense to be in the good books of those who are influential, as a way to gain entry into the right business circles. Business people often seek to arrange meetings with high-ranking officials to request their endorsement. This does not mean that merit is ignored, but that having the approval of a high-level official is a form of corroboration of the firm's capability and commitment.

Important phrases

Japanese is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world, considering that over 99% percent of the country's population speak the same language, although there are a number of dialects in different geographical areas. It is definitely advantageous to know a few commonly used phrases in Japanese when you are visiting the country. The following are some of them:

Hello: Konnichiwa
How are you? Ogenki desu ka?
Please: Onegai shimasu
Thank you: Domo arigatoo gozaimasu
You're welcome: Doo itashimashite
Excuse me: Sumimasen desu ga
My name is: Watakushi no namae wa.....
I understand: Hai wakarimasu
I don't understand: Lie, wakarimasen
Please wait: Shotto matte kudasai
Good bye: Sayoonara


Visitors to Japan for business or pleasure will find the Japanese customs to be fascinating and in many contexts definitely pleasing. For those seeking to do business, it is important to go with the tide as far as Japanese cultural beliefs and common practice are concerned, and to acquire at least a basic knowledge of the language, such as a dozen or so key phrases for everyday usage.

About the Author:

Alicia Taylor is an independent researcher and author focusing on financial and business matters.

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