Doing Business in Japan: Japanese Business Culture. Part 1


During your first few weeks of doing business in Japan, you will play golf, eat sushi, sing karaoke, and drink sake. To an American who is used to getting right down to business, this may seem like a waste of time. In reality though, it’s not just about recreation—singing karaoke with your business partners is getting down to business.

No, you won’t talk about the details of your proposal, and you won’t even have much discussion about what your company has to offer. But getting to know one another is the most vital part of doing business in Japan.

Business moves at a much slower pace. It’s all about gaining trust. Before your Japanese associate talks about the details of a proposal, they want to know you on a more personal level.

Humility in marketing

That’s a concept that is quite foreign to westerners. Marketing is all about telling your audience that you’re better, and more to the point, your competition is worse. In Japan, such boastful promotion doesn’t go over well, and your message must be more subtle.

Competing on price

Price is always a factor in any business deal, but in Japan, it’s not always the most important. Relationships are vital. You may have the best price, and maybe even the best product, but if you didn’t go to the sushi bar with your partner, and you turned down the sake in favor of a diet soft drink, the deal may go to your competitor. It’s all about relationships in Japan, and breaking into the “inner circle” will require a lot more than a nice PowerPoint and a competitive price.

Meeting and greeting

Japanese businesspersons are well acquainted with Western customs, and although the handshake is not customary, you may be offered a handshake when you first meet. The handshake tends to be lighter than in the West, and contrary to Western custom, you should not look your counterpart in the eye, lest you seem too aggressive. If your counterpart offers a hand first, then the handshake greeting is appropriate. Otherwise, go with the traditional bow. This is a very type of elegant greeting, and does not involve touching at all. The person with the lowest rank will bow first, and a deeper bow indicates greater respect. Don’t ever address your counterpart by their first name, rather, address them by their last name followed by the suffix “san”. If your name is John Smith, you will be referred to as “Smith-san”.