Business Trip and Etiquette
Politeness is very important in Japan, and there are many rules to pay attention to. That being said, as long as they are respectful and modest, foreigners are generally forgiven for the breaches of etiquette they commit. However, mastering basic Japanese manners always helps making a great first impression!
References and Credentials
Cold calls do not work in Japan. Japanese prefer to do business with people they have been introduced to or met personally. To succeed in the Japanese market, you have to go and be there in person and make direct contacts.
Most important for your Japanese partners are your exact corporate rank and title, your responsibilities within the firm and the credentials of your company. Most Japanese look out for a long term business relationship, so they prefer to make business with established companies with a good standing in the market.
An exchange of business cards is the introductory ritual in the corporate world in Japan. A business person does not exist without a name card – and it ceases to exist once it has lost its rights to a name card. You introduce yourself with your own name and the name of the company you are working for.
Ideally, your business card has one side written in Japanese. Bring plenty of them because the Japanese tend to come in groups to meetings. Present the card with both hands with your name facing the recipient. Put the received cards on the table and arrange them according to the persons sitting opposite of you. Do not write on other people’s cards.
Communication and Dress Code
- Keep nodding when Japanese talk to you. They need a signal that you are listening and comprehending what you are hearing.
- Try avoiding direct physical contact. A handshake is acceptable if you do not feel comfortable bowing, but patting someone on the back is considered rude.
- Keep jokes simple and lighthearted, and avoid sensitive topics (e.g. money, politics, religion, illegal activities).
- Dress smartly and conservatively. At formal occasions, men usually wear dark suits and ties, while women opt for conservative outfits and avoid
- In case you have to take off your shoes, make sure you are wearing fresh socks without any holes. If you feel uncomfortable with taking off your shoes, select a meeting place where you can leave your shoes on.
Trust as Basis
In Japan, people often want to get to know you as a person before they do business with you. It is recommended to establish a personal relationship which will serve as a basis of trust. This is the starting point for actual negotiations and future deals. Do not rush business dealings and push for results, as decisions often take time due to the number of people involved in the decision-making process.
Be prepared for some wining and dining in the evening, and potentially for an hour or two of karaoke singing. Make sure you select ahead one or two popular songs which are easy to perform because Japanese people very often will sing songs they have practiced many times at home!
If you are coming directly from Switzerland, it is always a good idea to bring small, not too expensive, but high quality gifts like chocolates, wine, or Swiss army knives (branded as “multi-purpose tools” in Japan). Wrapped brand name products are ideal. Make sure to bring enough gifts for the first meeting, as it is very likely that additional participants join the meeting.
- Be on time. "Fashionably late" is rude in Japan. If you cannot make it as planned, send a message or make a quick call to apologize and update your arrival time.
- When using chopsticks, do not point at anyone with them, never transfer food directly from your chopsticks to someone else's (or the other way around), and avoid sticking them vertically in your rice bowl. If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with chopsticks, do not hesitate to politely ask for a fork and a knife.
- If you do not want to eat something, simply excuse yourself with personal reasons.
- Do not drink before the "kanpai". Fill other people's empty glasses, but not your own.
- Do not tip the waiters.