Every culture has its own codes, values and work methods. These characteristics, which are often completely different from one culture to another, can create difficulties and misunderstandings which could jeopardise efficient business collaboration. Amélie Nothomb’s novel Fear and Trembling successfully depicts the dramatic consequences resulting from ignorance about cultural values of colleague or foreign counterparts.
Amélie Nothomb describes her expatriation to Japan and tells of how this experience becomes hell because of her ignorance about values and conventions of this other culture. Throughout the book, we notice several involuntary social and cultural mistakes which are not in accordance with Japanese culture.
Doing business in Japanrequires a really good understanding of the key principals of Japanese business culture. Here are some examples that you should keep in mind:
Wa: The word “wa” means “harmony”. This is one of the most valued principles of Japanese society. In business terms, ‘wa’ is reflected by avoiding self-assertion and individualism. It is absolutely necessary to preserve good business relationships, despite differences in opinion. When doing business in Japanit is also important to remember the effect of ‘wa’ on Japanese behaviour and in particular their indirect expression of ‘no’.
Kao: One of the fundamental values of the Japanese social system is the notion of ‘face’. Face is a mark of personal pride and forms the basis of an individual’s reputation and social status. Preservation of face comes through avoiding confrontations and direct criticism wherever possible. When doing business in Jap an, causing someone to lose face can be disastrous for professional relationships.
Omoiyari: ‘Omoiyari’ relates to the sense of empathy and loyalty encouraged in Japanese society and practised in Japanese business culture. In literal terms it means “to imagine another’s feelings”, therefore building a strong relationship based on trust and mutual feeling is vital for business success in Japan. For example, keeping in touch with your former Japanese colleagues or counterparts will help you if you ever need to work or collaborate with them again.
Hierarchy: Respect for hierarchy is an essential element of Japanese organisations. Junior members of the team respect their superiors and their elders. For example, the order in which people enter a Japanese board room or in which presentations are made, tend to be in decreasing order of importance. Showing the same values and respect when working in Japan is always greatly appreciated. Despite this, it is important to note that an individual considered to be “at the bottom of the ladder in the company” may be promoted if he gets good results.
Punctuality and Courtesy: Being late is often considered to be a lack of respect. A meeting is always planned in advance and it is common to confirm it by phone rather than by letter or email. When doing business in Japan, it is important to arrive five minutes early in order to start the meeting exactly on time.
Doing business in Japan requires a strict knowledge of Japanese cultural practices and conventions. An accidental faux pas could damage a promising trade relation and could thus represent a substantial loss for the company. Intercultural training on Japanese culture will give you the knowledge and skills you need to build trusting relationships with your Japanese counterparts and take full advantage of business opportunities in the land of the rising sun.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2013