Editor’s Note: The International Business Etiquette Series is designed to help students at the David Eccles School of Business navigate different cultures and countries as they conduct business around the globe.
Did you know that Japan has a population around 125 million people? That’s a lot of people in such a small geographic area. The official language of Japan is Japanese. The Japanese are extremely educated with nearly 95% receiving a high school education and a literacy rate of 99%. The most prevalent religion is Shinto. With the close ties Japan has to the United States, it is very important for students to understand the Japanese and their culture. In this post, we will explore the business etiquette of Japan along with several aspects of the Japanese culture.
Note: These etiquette tips are generalized, so be aware and sensitive when you’re doing business in Japan. Not all Japanese are going to behave this way, so be adaptive and conscientious of your situation.
What should you wear if you do business in Japan?
In general, Japanese dress accordingly to status and position.
- Men: You should wear dark conservative attire. Normally, business suits are the most appropriate. Never wear anything casual to a business meeting.
- Women: You should wear a dress that is conservative. Keep accessories to a minimum. Women should not wear pants in business settings. It offends Japanese men if you do. Don’t wear high-heels to avoid towering over men.
What are the “do’s” and “don’ts” when addressing the Japanese?
- Do address them formally using titles.
- Do give them personal space when interacting. Since Japan is so populated, personal space is very valuable.
- Do give gifts to business executives. The gift itself isn’t important, but the way it’s given is more important.
- Do not point at others; it’s unacceptable
- Do not touch them when addressing them. It’s very inappropriate to touch especially someone of the opposite sex.
- Do not give gifts in odd number or the number four. Odd number considered bad luck and the number four sounds like death.
How should you communicate with the Japanese?
- Japanese is the official language. It is important to know a couple of phrases such as kampai (when toasting), sumimasen (excuse-me), arigato (thank you).
- When you first meet, present your business cards to each other. Present card with both hands. After this is done, business may then begin.
- When you greet them, start with a bow. A handshake is also fine, but it is usually a weak one. Don’t take offense because a weak handshake shows character.
- Use the person’s last name whenever speaking. The word “san” means Mr. or Ms. so add “san” after the person’s last name.
- The Japanese aren’t very straightforward. When you ask them a question, even if their response is “no,” they will say “yes” to be polite. So make sure to clarify especially during negotiation processes.
Other things to consider:
- Number 4 is bad luck. Never use it because it sounds like the Japanese word for death.
- Do not admire anything belonging to the host too much. They may reward you for admiration by giving you that item.
- Good gift ideas are fruit, alcohol, and beef.