Doing Business In Japan: Important Etiquette Rules You Need To Know (Part 2)
Privacy is Valued
Japanese people are notoriously private and reserved. Privacy is important in Japan. People can have their names removed from phone books if they want. Windows are designed so people can’t look in. Avoid asking a lot of personal questions at the beginning of the relationship. It may be regarded as pushy or rude which is to us a way of building a rapport. This may be why Japan lags behind the world in social media adoption.
According to a 2021 article in Ad Age Digital, only 28% of Japanese internet users visit social media sites on a monthly basis. The time spent on social networking in Japan is 2.9% compared to the US 16.8%.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You!
A business gift exchange is an important tradition in Japan, especially at the first meeting. The choice of gift says a lot and can convey the wrong message. Flowers such as lotus blossoms, lilies, camellias and any white flowers are used for funeral services and should be avoided. Potted plants carry negative superstitions.
Buying a set of 4 of anything is deemed unlucky. The number nine is also inauspicious. On a side note, Christmas cards, avoid red and funeral notices are usually printed in red.
Chopstick Manners Speak Loudly
A towel is most likely provided at the start of the meal. Wipe your hands only, not your face on the damp towel. When you serve yourself from shared dishes, if there are no utensils for serving yourself, use the opposite end of your chopsticks to pick up food to add to your plate. Don’t use chopsticks to pierce food even if it is slippery.
After eating, leave your place setting close to how you found it, this means placing your used chopsticks in their paper envelopes or holder and replacing lids on small dishes. It doesn’t hurt to know the different types of sushi. Inform yourself of some of the differences, that way you don’t seem unsophisticated.
Honor the Unofficial Dress Code
Business clothes are conservative in Japan. Men wear conservative business suits and blend in with the group. Women are encouraged to keep jewelry minimal and not to stand out. It is also considered for women to not wear high heels if this results in towering over their male Japanese counterparts.
The Small Stuff Matters
Observing small details of politeness is a big way of showering respect in Japan. For example, blowing your nose in public, such as in a meeting room, is considered in poor taste. It’s best to excuse yourself and walk out. We all know about taking our shoes off at the door and wearing slippers your Japanese host will provide, but it doesn’t stop there. You might have to remove your slippers once inside if you encounter a tatami floor which is a type of mat, which should only be stepped on with bare feet or socks. If you go to the washroom, you might have another pair of slippers reserved for the washroom only. While you’re not expected to know all of this, it’s noticed and appreciated when you do.
Japanese do not like to be pressured or confronted. When pitching your business proposal, approach the presentation in a gentle and persuasive way. Don’t emphasize so much on decisions and deadlines. Focus on points you mutually agree on and build on that. Take your time during the pitch. Japanese see rushing the process as disrespectful. Use the time that you find wasted during the meeting, to build trust and cement the business relationship.
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