Japan Culture of Business

By | July 24, 2022

Subchapters:

  • Introduction
  • Addressing
  • Business Meeting
  • Communication
  • Recommendations
  • Public Holidays

Introduction

Japanese culture is unique and the result of centuries of development. Among its main characteristics are respect for age and status (which can be given by social position, educational attainment and marital status), long-term relationship building, modesty and limited expressiveness. It is therefore advisable to devote at least minimal preparation to the cultural differences that may be encountered before negotiations with Japanese partners. However, you don’t have to worry that any deviation from these rules or a minor misstep automatically means the end of the prospects for concluding a business deal. The Japanese are tolerant and aware that they are not dealing with a Japanese counterpart, so they will not require you to strictly follow all the rules of etiquette. However, following Japanese rules helps to make a good first impression and gain trust.

Addressing

Establishing direct business contacts in Japan is a very difficult and lengthy process, requiring patience, experience in dealing with Japanese businessmen, and a range of marketing information and skills. In Japan, there is no comprehensive database of potential importers by import items. Another complication is the high number of business entities linked by personal ties to customers, while personal contacts of business partners are an indispensable condition for a long-term business relationship and are even more important than in other countries.

Today, even in Japan, it is common for a company to provide an e-mail address to which the first contact letter or offer can be sent, or the contact form is part of its website. Even so, you will often come across a company that does not provide a contact e-mail address on its website. In the case of the contact form, you are waiting for a response after filling it out. Companies that have mainly Japanese partners often have a website only in Japanese. If you want to cooperate or do business with such a company, you must realize that it is not used to doing business with a foreign partner, or does not know English. The official language is Japanese and many people do not speak English, even in the business world. It is therefore common that there is never an answer to an address in English precisely because of its ignorance.

Japanese experts themselves recommend the following procedure: when approaching a company for the first time, formulate the offer more generally and do not give many details, but focus all the more on a thorough presentation of your own company and on facts showing its tradition, creditworthiness, reliability and international experience. In the first e-mail letter, it is appropriate to request that the person reading it informs the sender of the name and contact information of the worker who will be responsible for handling this matter. Only in communication with this materially relevant employee of the company is it appropriate to focus on the specific, more detailed circumstances of the offer.

Business meeting

When arranging a personal meeting, it is a good idea to try to accommodate the circumstances of the other party and not to change the date once set if possible. Punctuality is equally important (however, it is not recommended to arrive at the meeting place more than 10 minutes earlier). For important business meetings, it is therefore necessary to have an interpreter, or it is necessary to check in advance whether it is possible to hold the meeting in English or whether it will be necessary to arrange the presence of an interpreter. Documents and business cards should also be translated into Japanese. With regard to the language (lack of) equipment of the Japanese, it is ideal to have all materials translated into Japanese, however, in most cases, materials in English are sufficient for the first meeting. However, in the more advanced stages of negotiations, we strongly recommend having, for example, product catalogs in the Japanese version as well.

Formal clothing is also essential, where a suit with a tie is a matter of course. In the summer period (approx. May to October), the so-called “Cool-biz” dress code is officially introduced in Japanese offices and in most large companies, so no one will stop to notice if you come to meetings in the summer in a suit without a tie.

  • PaulSourcing: Tips and recommendations for doing business with Japan. Also includes country basic data and information for entering the its market.

Although bowing is the traditional way of greeting in Japan, it is not unusual for a Japanese partner to shake hands when getting to know you. We therefore recommend waiting and adapting to your counterpart’s preferred way of greeting. Subsequently, before solving business matters, it is also customary to have a short free chat (for example, about how the trip to the meeting was, or about the current weather, etc.). When dealing with Japanese partners in person, it is necessary to respect their communication style – there is no rush during negotiations, great emphasis is placed on politeness and discretion in speech, excessive gesticulation is also inappropriate.

During the meeting itself, it is important to show interest in your business partner. Take as many handwritten notes as possible, ask lots of questions. But at the same time, keep in mind that the first meeting may feel a little measured. This is because Japanese people generally take longer to build trust and a friendlier attitude towards you. Undoubtedly, more informal meetings also contribute to deepening the business relationship – invitations to lunch, dinner or, in more advanced stages of negotiations, to a bar or karaoke are a common part of business meetings. Alcohol consumption (most often beer and sake) is quite common during these gatherings, especially in the regions of Shikoku, Kyushu, or Okinawa. Tradition in Japan dictates that if your glass is empty, you signal to the host that you want a refill. Therefore, if you no longer wish to continue drinking,

According to the position, the highest-ranking person sits in place 1, others in 2nd and 3rd place. A high-ranking person sits farthest from the entrance, and a subordinate sits near the entrance. As a rule, a manager/senior person should lead the meeting. The exact composition of the negotiating team has not been determined.

An essential part of personal business contact is the exchange of business cards, of which you need to have a large supply for your stay in Japan. Double-sided business cards with English and Japanese versions are common. Care should also be taken in the form of handing them over, they are given and accepted with both hands and turned so that the partner can read them immediately. After handing it over, it is important to quickly read the business card and if there are any ambiguities (for example, the correct pronunciation of the other party’s name), ask immediately. It is polite to place the received business card in front of you on the edge of the table and clean it up at the end of the meeting.

Gifts are a chapter in themselves. These are expected both at the first meeting and during subsequent negotiations. They are usually handed over at the end of the meeting and unwrapped only in the absence of the giver, in order to avoid possible embarrassment from an inappropriate gift. Gifts are always accepted with both hands and it is polite to refuse them once or twice first. The choice of a donated item depends mainly on the position of the recipient, regional products or food are particularly suitable. Perhaps only white flowers (used at funerals) and advertising items are considered downright inappropriate. The Japanese are very patient with the form, so always wrap the gift carefully and beautifully. During the tour (delegation visit), it is advisable to focus on the program and show interest. Separate from the group and walk alone, go outside to smoke, pay attention to the phone, etc.

In Japan, it is also customary to briefly thank the business partner for taking the time to contact you (for example, by phone or email) shortly after the end of the meeting.

Communication

In general, Japanese people welcome frequent communication/correspondence and quick replies. Even if there is a small change (change of delivery date, other notes, etc.), it is better to inform about it every time. One of the basic rules for successful business in Japan is to keep in constant contact with your Japanese counterpart, and an email sent immediately after the meeting, in which you attach used presentations, repeat the conclusions of the meeting or deliver the promised information, is the ideal way to achieve this naturally. Visit Animalerts for more information about Japan culture and traditions.

The official language is Japanese and many people do not speak English, even in the business world. For important business meetings, it is therefore necessary to have an interpreter, or it is necessary to check in advance whether it is possible to hold the meeting in English or whether it will be necessary to arrange the presence of an interpreter. Documents and business cards should also be translated into Japanese. With regard to the language (lack of) equipment of the Japanese, it is ideal to have all materials translated into Japanese, however, in most cases, materials in English are sufficient for the first meeting. However, in the more advanced stages of negotiations, we strongly recommend having, for example, product catalogs in the Japanese version as well. If you will be using the presentation during the meeting, do not forget to prepare a printed version for your partners.

There are no explicit taboo topics in Japan, however, it is necessary to realize that Japanese people are not very used to discussing and may not have an opinion on some topics and may get embarrassed if a question is asked about them. It is therefore rather recommended to choose less controversial topics such as place of birth and characteristics of the native prefecture, including local specialties.

Applications such as Messenger or WhatsApp are not used for official communication, although a certain shift can be observed in this regard as well. The most common communication application in Japan is LINE.

Recommendation

Trade exchange between Japan and the Czech Republic is characterized by a large imbalance in volume, the Czechia is a small export-oriented economy, while Japan’s is the third largest economy in the world, typical of a highly developed, very competitive and at the same time large internal market with high purchasing power of the population; Czech companies therefore have to offer truly unique products – unique either by innovation or, on the contrary, by tradition (Czech brands and products known in the world for their traditional quality). Japanese companies and investors are primarily interested in advanced, innovative and competitive technologies in the fields of information and communication technology, nanotechnology and biotechnology; end customers very often prioritize quality over price, so even designer and luxury goods have a chance of success.

A high-quality sales representative or cooperation with a successful partner on the market is a necessary condition for successful establishment in the demanding Japanese market. However, the pursuit of success in the B2C segment is extremely time- and financially demanding, and the scope for Czech companies thus lies primarily in B2B. When choosing a business connection, we recommend focusing on significant representative, trading or manufacturing companies with a good reputation. Japanese business is characterized by a higher number of intermediaries between the manufacturer and the seller involved in distribution, and a partner who is familiar with the intricacies of the distribution channel and has a sufficient range of contacts is thus one of the key elements for success in the Japanese market.

No less important is a thorough knowledge of the situation on the Japanese market for a specific type of product, where we recommend checking in advance what the domestic and foreign competition offers, and evaluating what comparative advantages your product has compared to products or technologies that are already available in Japan. As has already been mentioned several times, only a unique or innovative product/technology/solution really has a chance of success.

Public Holidays

  • January 1 (New Year, Ganjitsu)
  • second Monday in January (“Coming of age”, seijin no hi)
  • February 11 (Day of the Establishment of the Empire, kenkoku kinenbi)
  • February 23 (Emperor’s Birthday, Tennó Tanjobi)
  • March 20 or 21 (vernal equinox, shunbun no hi)
  • April 29 (Šówa day, Šówa no hi)
  • May 3 (Constitution Day, kenpō kinenbi)
  • May 4th (Green Day, midori no hi)
  • May 6 (Children’s Day, kodomo no hi)
  • third Monday in July (Ocean Day, umi no hi)
  • August 11 (Day of mountains, jama no hi)
  • third Monday in September (Day of Respect for the Old and Longevity, keiro no hi)
  • September 23 or 24 (autumnal equinox, šúbun no hi)
  • second Monday in October (Health and Sports Day, taiiku no hi)
  • November 3 (Culture Day, cell no hi)
  • November 23 (Labor Day, kinrókanša no hi)

If the holiday falls on a Sunday, it is moved to Monday according to the Public Holidays Act.

Japan Culture of Business