Japan is a highly structured and traditional society. Great
importance is placed on loyalty, politeness, personal responsibility
and on everyone working together for the good of the larger group.
Education, ambition, hard work, patience and determination are held
in the highest regard. The crime rate is one of the lowest in the
Meeting and Greeting
- A handshake is appropriate upon meeting. The Japanese
handshake is limp and with little or no eye contact.
- Some Japanese bow and shake hands. The bow is a highly
regarded greeting to show respect and is appreciated by the
Japanese. A slight bow to show courtesy is acceptable.
- Nodding is very important. When listening to Japanese speak,
especially in English, you should nod to show you are listening
and understanding the speaker.
- Silence is a natural and expected form of non-verbal
communication. Do not feel a need to chatter.
- Do not stand close to a Japanese person. Avoid touching.
- Prolonged eye contact (staring) is considered rude.
- Don’t show affection, such as hugging or shoulder slapping, in
- Never beckon with your forefinger. The Japanese extend their
right arm out in front, bending the wrist down, waving fingers. Do
not beckon older people.
- Sit erect with both feet on the floor. Never sit with ankle
- Waving a hand back and forth with palm forward in front of
face means "no" or "I don't know." This is a polite response to a
- Never point at someone with four fingers spread out and thumb
- Punctuality is a must in all business and social meetings.
- Any degree of knowledge of Japanese culture is greatly
- Japanese may exchange business cards even before they shake
hands or bow. Be certain your business card clearly states your
rank. This will determine who your negotiating counterpart should
- Bear in mind that initial negotiations begin with middle
managers. Do not attempt to go over their heads to senior
- It is acceptable to use a Japanese company interpreter in the
first meeting. Once negotiations begin, hire your own interpreter.
- Both business and personal relationships are hierarchical.
Older people have higher status than younger, men higher than
women and senior executives higher than junior executives.
- It is very important to send a manager of the same rank to
meet with a Japanese colleague. Title is very important.
- Work is always undertaken as a group. The workgroup is
strongly united with no competition; all succeed or all fail.
Decision-making is by consensus. Everyone on the work team must be
consulted before making decisions. This is a very slow process.
- The first meeting may focus on establishing an atmosphere of
friendliness, harmony and trust. Business meetings are conducted
formally, so leave your humor behind. Always allow ten minutes of
polite conversation before beginning business meetings.
- It takes several meetings to develop a contract. When the time
comes, be content to close a deal with a handshake. Leave the
signing of the written contract to later meetings.
- Etiquette and harmony are very important. "Saving face" is a
key concept. Japanese are anxious to avoid unpleasantness and
confrontation. Try to avoid saying "no." Instead, say, "This could
be very difficult," allowing colleagues to save face.
- Proper introduction to business contacts is a must. The
introducer becomes a guarantor for the person being introduced.
- Do not bring a lawyer. It is important is to build business
relationships based on trust. The Japanese do not like complicated
legal documents. Write contracts that cover essential points.
Dining and Entertainment
- Restaurant entertaining is crucial to business. A person is
judged by his/her behavior during and after business hours. Seldom
is a business deal completed without dinner in a restaurant.
- Drinking is a group activity. Do not say "no" when offered a
- An empty glass is the equivalent of asking for another drink.
Keep your glass at least half full if you do not want more. If a
Japanese person attempts to pour more and you do not want it, put
your hand over your glass, or fill it with water if necessary.
- An empty plate signals a desire for more food. Leave a little
food on your plate when you are finished eating.
- When drinking with a Japanese person, fill his glass or cup
after he has filled yours. While he is pouring, hold your cup or
glass up so he can fill it easily. Never pour your own drink and
always pour your companion's.
- Toasting is very important in Japan and many toasts are
offered during the course of an evening. At dinner, wait for the
toast before you drink. Respond to each toast with a toast.
- Wait for the most important person (honored guest) to begin
eating. If you are the honored guest, wait until all the food is
on the table and everyone is ready before you eat.
- When offered food, it is polite to hesitate before accepting.
You do not have to eat much, but it is rude not to sample each
- It is acceptable to slurp noodles. Some Japanese believe that
it makes them taste better.
- Do not finish your soup before eating other foods. It should
accompany your meal. Replace the lid of the soup bowl when
- Dress is modern and conservative. The Japanese dress well at
all times. Dress smartly for parties, even if an invitation says
"Casual" or "Come as you are."
- For business, men should wear dark suits and ties (subtle
- Women should wear dresses, suits and shoes with heels. Subtle
colors and conservative styles are best for business.
- The ritual of gift giving is more important than the value of
- Allow your Japanese counterpart to initiate the gift giving.
Present a gift in a modest fashion, saying, "This is just a small
token," or "This is an insignificant gift."
- It is very important to receive a gift properly. Give a gift
and receive a gift with both hands and a slight bow. The Japanese
may refuse a gift once or twice before accepting it.
- Do not give anyone a gift unless you have one for everyone
- Correct wrapping is very important. Appearance counts for as
much or more than the contents.
- Be prepared to give and receive a gift at a first business
meeting. Gifts are frequently given at the end of a first meeting.
Not giving a proper gift could ruin a business relationship.
- Avoid using the number "four" if possible. It has connotations
of death to the Japanese.
- The Japanese may ask personal questions. This is not intended
to be rude, but rather a polite way to show interest. You may give
vague or general answers if you feel a question is too personal.
- The Japanese do not express opinions and desires openly. What
they say and what they mean may be very different.
- Do not expect a Japanese person to say "no." "Maybe" generally
Especially for Women
- Non-Japanese women are treated very politely in business and
it is understood that Western women hold high-level positions in
business. Western women must establish credibility and a position
of authority immediately.
- A non-Japanese woman is viewed first as a foreigner and then
as a woman and is treated accordingly.
- Businesswomen can invite a Japanese businessman to lunch or
dinner. Allow your Japanese colleague to pick the restaurant.