Japan has evolved over the last half century to become one of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced economies, well known for its exports of cars and electronic goods. In addition, a well educated population with an incredibly strong work ethic means that Japan offers a wealth of investment and market opportunities to international organisations.
Made up of over 3,000 islands, Japan has some of the most crowded urban areas in the world since the majority of people live on only a few of the islands. It is not surprising then that personal space is highly valued in Japan and gestures and facial expressions tend to be modest when doing business in Japan.
As an island country, Japan’s population has remained extremely homogenous and you will find a strong sense of group identity when doing business in Japan. The distinction between private and public life is blurred where teamwork and ‘fitting in’ are much more important than individualism in Japan. That being said, the younger generation of Japanese starting to enter the business world are increasingly making efforts to stand out from the crowd in the way they dress, communicate and act.
During the tragic events that occurred in March 2011, the world also witnessed another Japanese value: the importance of maintaining face and dignity at all times. Most foreigners living and working in Japan at the time were struck by the calm nature and self-control displayed by the local population during and after the earthquake and the tsunami that led to a nuclear situation. The importance of face and dignity are values that can be found in almost every aspect of Japanese social and business cultures so you will often find that your Japanese counterparts will seldom display their emotions or feelings in order to keep face.
The following tips will help you improve your success when doing business in Japan.
- Avoid causing loss of face at all costs. Don’t be confrontational or openly criticise or embarrass Japanese colleagues as they will lose ‘kao’, or face.
- Be aware that Japanese business culture is hierarchical. Be sure you always greet the most senior people in the room before anyone more junior.
- Don’t be afraid of silence as it causes less anxiety than in the West and is often used as a negotiating tactic.
- Be aware of your body language and try to maintain a formal posture during meetings. Avoid slumping or crossing your legs as this could give a negative impression.
- Make sure you take plenty of business cards with you and have your details printed in Japanese on the reverse when doing business in Japan.
- Japan is a country with a high usage of technology which most of the population has access to. You can expect your Japanese colleagues to be comfortable with virtual communication, however as they are relationship focused you should always try to find time for face-to-face meetings.
- Avoid physical contact or expansive gestures and facial expressions when doing business in Japan. Most Japanese are modest and reserved in their behaviour and value the space around them.
- Address your business partners by their surname. To show even more respect, add ‘san’ after their surname. For example, Akira Kurosawa could be addressed as Mr Akira Kurosawa or Kurosawa San.
- Offer your Japanese counterparts a small gift when meeting or visiting them. Your gift should be well wrapped but modest and not too personal. Don’t expect them to open it in front of you as this may cause loss of face to one of the parties.
- Relationships and networks are a key part of Japanese business culture. Many international companies doing business in Japan find more success when they rely on a third party to help introduce them and build their reputation in the market.
Considering and respecting the top tips for doing business in Japan above is the first step towards building effective relationships with your Japanese counterparts. Participating in a cross cultural awareness training course such as Doing Business in Japan will give you a comprehensive understanding of this dynamic and fast-changing culture so that you can anticipate and manage cultural differences more effectively and build better business relationships.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011