During any kind of business transactions, Japanese value high protocol, and especially etiquette. This rule is valid for foreigners living in Japan as well. Nevertheless, in many cases Japanese people are forgiving to foreigners because they demonstrate respect and effort to grasp Japanese culture and business etiquette. If you have some issues, they will lend you a hand and help you in any way that they can.
Watch this video for better understanding of Japanese meeting culture.
Generally speaking, Japanese business etiquette includes politeness, sensitivity and good manners. If you compare it with Europe or USA, Japanese business etiquette is much more formal and the exchange of business cards is almost considered as the norm.
- Planning a meeting
If you have already planned a meeting with your Japanese counterparts, you should bring along those people who are considered important to be present during the meeting. If it happens that there will be more people than previously discussed, this will be considered as inappropriate. You team should be exactly the same as in the biographical list you sent before your arrival. But if it you will be more than initially planned, be sure to inform your Japanese counterparts about it. And if you have some documents, send them beforehand both in Japanese and English, as it will help them to be prepared for the meeting.
- During a meeting
This part is very important when you first meet your host face-to-face, as you should always try to honor cultural traditions. The first thing to do is to bow and wait to see if your counterpart comes up with a handshake. Almost certainly your host will offer a handshake; but you should really understand this rule and demonstrate it to your Japanese counterpart. And be punctual, or you will lose your ‘face’ if you are late for the meeting.
When you are in the meeting room, you should wait until you are shown a place to sit. The highest ranking person will sit at the head of the table, with the subordinates sitting on both sides of the table. If no-one is sitting you also shouldn’t in order not to ‘break the ice’. This applies to all actions, which includes drinking, eating or speaking. Just wait until a senior does the first step and then you may follow. Try to develop a friendly relationship and talk about positive things or tell some personal anecdotes. But always let them be the first to talk about business.
Treat them with respect, don’t use hard sell tactics, and don’t rush. And keep in mind that silence is very much valued in Japan. If there is awkward silence, let them be the ones to break it. Make sure to take notes during the meeting about what was discussed and decided. And show patience if at the end of the meeting there will be no decision.
After a meeting
After the meeting is over, if you are waiting for a decision, make sure to be patient and adjust your time, because the general agreement will need to be reached between all the Japanese parties involved in the meeting – which can take some time. I recommend you to write a thank-you letter for their hospitality and deliberation because thankfulness is highly valued in Japan.
To conclude, when in Japan for a business meeting I would say that you should bring your business cards (also in Japanese), always smile, be pleasant and do not ask personal questions. Discuss only business.
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