Keep in mind that the team and the company supersedes the individual. Don’t, for example, ask, “What do you think about our proposal?” What the individual thinks is less relevant. Instead, ask them, “What does your company think about our proposal?” Keep in mind too, that the response will always be polite, and Japanese will never say “no” directly. Anything other than a solid “yes” should be taken as ambiguous. And to make it even more confusing, the Japanese word for yes, “hai”, is often used just to indicate that somebody is listening, and not literal agreement.
Food and Restaurants
As is the case in much of Asia, relationships are formed around food. You may be taken to a restaurant, or if you’re lucky, even to a person’s home. Learn to use chopsticks. You may have seen people in some of the less expensive restaurants grab a pair of chopsticks and rub them together before eating, but don’t copy this behavior. That is done simply to remove any splinters from the sticks, and doing so indicates that the chopsticks may be substandard. Done in a high-end restaurant or in somebody’s home, it would be an insult. A few pointers on eating Japanese food—avoid eating with the mouth open—with the exception of eating noodles, which often involves “slurping”.
At the restaurant, be prepared to sit on the floor if you are going to one of the more traditional restaurants. Women should dress appropriately, and avoid short skirts. High heels should also be avoided—you don’t want to stand taller than your counterparts. And when the bill comes, don’t be quick to grab the bill or offer to split the cost—the host will always pay. If you do the inviting, then you pay.
A word about feet and hands
In Japan, paying attention to what you do with your feet is of utmost importance. Always remove your shoes when you go into somebody’s home, a temple, or a restaurant. You may even find some shops or offices have a no-shoe policy, just follow the lead of your host. And pay attention to how you cross your legs when you are seated. Showing the bottom of your shoes is rude—so either cross your legs at the knees with your feet hanging downward, or just keep your feet flat on the floor.
Hands too, have certain rules. If you want to point out something, do not point with your fingers. And here’s another area that trips up many Westerners who like to talk with their hands—you will need to avoid this practice, as dramatic gestures are distracting, and may be misinterpreted by your counterpart.