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Business Etiquette of Japan
Japan, unlike the United States of America, has a very formal and polite social framework inside and outside of business. Conducting business with Japanese companies requires one to understand their strict and unique form of business etiquette as well as their culture. It is important for any kind of business done with and in Japan to understand their culture and etiquette. Business etiquette for Japan consists of Politeness training, Manner training, Japanese perspective of foreigners, and basic Japanese business interactions. The following graphic demonstrates a significant reason to learning about Japanese business etiquette and culture.
The United States trade and business consist mainly of Canada, Mexico, and China. However, the fourth country right behind those big three is Japan. The United States has a large sum of imports from Japan and exports to Japan. Any business deals made with the top 5 nations we are trading with are of utmost importance for international business. Communication amongst businesses is necessary to make deals. Learning about the necessary skills for communication will maximize the chances of achieving successful deals with foreign nations like Japan.
Politeness and Business Manners Training
In Japan, there are courses in place to improve the business etiquette of employees. These courses are in place in order to teach employees about honorifics and other verbal strategies. Honorifics is a verbal system used in Japan to show respect and politeness when conversing. When conversing with honorifics, the speaker can identify their relationship to the listener, the gender of that specific person or a social role that person may have. Although this technique of using honorifics is used for politeness and respect, it does not necessarily lead to one being liked or respected. Not only does one need to encounter and learn honorifics, but they also need to learn how to use other verbal strategies when communicating. Verbal strategies such as stylistic alternation, cushion words, question forms and avoiding negatives are taught to improve business etiquette. Stylistic alternation is when one adds honorifics as well as replaces plain nouns with more formal and workplace-oriented nouns. Cushion words or phrases are apology phrases used to precede a question to show politeness and respect. When in a Japanese work environment, it is ideal to avoid negatives and communicate negative information in a positive way. Using all or combinations of the different verbal systems and strategies will help build business etiquette skills needed for Japan. (Dunn, 2011)
Perspective of Foreigners
In order to conduct business with Japan internationally, one should know how foreigners are viewed by the Japanese people. Japanese believe foreigners are wealthy, selfish, lacking in team skills, lacking in patience, and care more about the business rather than its employees. Unlike the United States, Japanese businesses place a high value on all their associates and employees. Japanese business etiquette also dictates that experience is valued more than expertise. In the United States someone who has worked longer than another would not be given as much respect as someone who has high skill. In Japan, they respect age and believe age brings wisdom and experience. Another view that is different between foreign business and Japanese business is vacation time. Japanese people see long vacations as disloyalty to and disrespectful to their employers. Usually, a week off from work would be the standard vacation time, but on rare occasions, they will take off more. Lastly, the Japanese people try not to display emotion in front of strangers and in business. They are taught early on to cover their emotions to prevent unwelcomed attention to themselves. Not only should you pay mind to their perspective of you, but also their basic interactions with one another in a business setting. (Engel, et al, 2009)
Basic interactions within Japanese Business
There are many customs in Japan that are not always expected of foreigners to comply with but are much appreciated. Greetings are an important part of business worldwide and it is not any different in Japan. Rather than handshakes, the Japanese prefer to nod or bow to greet one another. Bowing incorrectly is worst than not bowing at all, so it is ideal to nod or to learn how to properly bow. Varying positions of bowing can demonstrate the respect given to the recipient. Conducting business in a restaurant in Japan is different than in America. There are strict rules to table manners in Japan as well as a difference in tipping. Japanese people make it a point to not place elbows on the table, eat when everyone has their food, and to finish their food. Instead of giving a tip of money, after the meal, Japanese people tend to do other things to show appreciation for the meal. Some businesses and restaurants require that shoes be removed at the door before entering. Slippers are used indoors in Japan rather than normal shoes like in the United States. If you commute via public transportation in Japan it is proper etiquette to not eat, drink, talk on the phone, or get loud. Basic rules to business and traveling in Japan should be followed to show good intentions of your company. (Kam, 2018)
A very important ritual conducted amongst Japanese business people as well as foreigners is the interaction of business cards. In the United States, simply giving your business contact information orally would suffice as a proper greeting. However, in Japan it is a special ritual to use business cards. There are even rules that come to giving and receiving business cards in Japan. The person with the greater title will bow first and hold their business card face-down in both hands. The person with the lower title will use both hands to take the card and will keep it out for the remainder of the time talking. Keeping the card from any damage is of utmost importance in this business ritual. The business card should reveal the social and business status of yourself to show the respect that you command. Although this is a tradition in Japanese business, many younger employees will use smartphones rather than business cards to provide the information. Not giving a business card is not something that will endanger a deal, but if you do provide one it could prove to increase relations with that person and business. The custom of giving and receiving a business card is referred to as Meshi Koukan. Meshi Koukan roughly translates to English as “business card exchange”. (Jacobs 2017)
Whether it be national or international, culture is a big part of any business. Nationally culture varies in small ways, while Internationally culture can be extremely different. Understanding another country’s culture is significant for results and success internationally. Some countries will need more preparations than others. Since Japan is one of the top 5 traders with the United States, they are an important area of business. Unlike the United States, they have many cultural rules and etiquette inside and outside of business. It is important to not only understand their culture, rules, and interactions but also their perspective of foreigners. Japanese people have strong views of what foreigners such as Americans are like. Some of the views they have of Americans are extreme wealth, selfishness, and lack of team skills and patience. Relations with a Japanese company with improve after you communicate and show that your business is different from those views while keeping in mind of all the cultural and business rules of Japan. Important rules to remember are as follows: bowing correctly, showing respect to seniors, using proper and positive wording of sentences, using business cards, and learning proper restaurant etiquette. Mastering the skills of business etiquette for Japan will provide long-term success and strong relationships with Japanese Businesses.
- Dunn, Cynthia Dickel. “Formal Forms or Verbal Strategies? Politeness Theory and Japanese Business Etiquette Training.” Journal of Pragmatics, vol. 43, no. 15, 2011, pp. 3643–3654., doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2011.06.003.
- Engel, Dean W., et al. Passport Japan: Your Pocket Guide to Japanese Business, Customs & Etiquette. World Trade Press, 2009.
- Jacobs, Harrison. “I Forgot One Thing on My Trip to Japan – and Now I Have to Apologize to Every Person I Meet.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 17 Jan. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/japan-business-culture-etiquette-bring-business-cards-2017-1.
- Kam, Kristie. “5 Surprising Etiquette Differences between the US and Japan.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 28 June 2018, www.businessinsider.com/etiquette-differences-between-japan-and-us-2018-6.
- Karaim, Reed. “U.S. Trade Policy.” CQ Researcher by CQ Press, library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2018033000.
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