Tips for doing business in Japan as a foreigner

I recently stumbled an article about doing business in Japan and thought I would share it with you. Although a lot of these points make sense, they also sometimes sound a little caricatural, and written by somebody who may not have had so much experience doing business here, so I thought some deserved to be corrected or completed.

Avoid causing loss of face at all costs. Don’t be confrontational or openly criticise or embarrass Japanese colleagues as they will lose ‘kao’, or face.

This makes sense, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t show any sort of disagreement at all, I thought it was worth mentioning. I experienced this a lot when I was providing SEO and web design services in Japan: you must find a nice, moderated way to show your colleagues or clients when they are wrong.

Be aware that Japanese business culture is hierarchical. Be sure you always greet the most senior people in the room before anyone more junior.

That point makes sense I guess. I would actually expect that in about any country.

Don’t be afraid of silence as it causes less anxiety than in the West and is often used as a negotiating tactic.

True, just make sure you look like you’re actually thinking of something, otherwise you will just look sort of strange!

Be aware of your body language and try to maintain a formal posture during meetings. Avoid slumping or crossing your legs as this could give a negative impression.

Once again, pretty obvious stuff. I’d add eye contact is extremely important. Never stop eye contact for too long if possible.

Make sure you take plenty of business cards with you and have your details printed in Japanese on the reverse when doing business in Japan.

Also, if you are a foreigner, having an English and a Japanese side on the card usually leaves a positive impression.

Japan is a country with a high usage of technology which most of the population has access to. You can expect your Japanese colleagues to be comfortable with virtual communication, however as they are relationship focused you should always try to find time for face-to-face meetings.

I don’t really agree with this one. From my experience, Japanese people tend to try to get you on the phone and then meet you face-to-face as soon as they can. I’ve personally had to refuse some work because of such issues (distant working).

Avoid physical contact or expansive gestures and facial expressions when doing business in Japan. Most Japanese are modest and reserved in their behaviour and value the space around them.

True on many cases, but especially with foreigners, there are also some pretty relaxed and entertaining Japanese businessmen. Pay attention of the person in front of you, and adapt your behaviour.

Address your business partners by their surname. To show even more respect, add ‘san’ after their surname. For example, Akira Kurosawa could be addressed as Mr Akira Kurosawa or Kurosawa San.

You wouldn’t even mention the first name normally, unless you are calling the person out of a crowd, and if you did so, you would rather say Mr. Kurosawa Akira.

Offer your Japanese counterparts a small gift when meeting or visiting them. Your gift should be well wrapped but modest and not too personal. Don’t expect them to open it in front of you as this may cause loss of face to one of the parties.

That one is a must!

Relationships and networks are a key part of Japanese business culture. Many international companies doing business in Japan find more success when they rely on a third party to help introduce them and build their reputation in the market.

Exact, I wrote a whole post about how this applies to link building and SEO in Japan.

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