Japanese etiquette has many exquisite layers that extend beyond how to slurp your ramen. The people of Japan are famous for their accommodation of foreigners, but observing time-honoured traditions is a savvy way to show respect for Japanese business associates and enter a strategic relationship on a strong footing.
The Japanese will appreciate your efforts to observe their culture with just a little effort in the following areas.
The Art Of Bowing - Ojigi
A bow can impart a thousand meanings. Place your hands at your side, keep your back straight, cast your eyes down, and consider the depth and duration of your bow. A long, deep bow represents a high level of respect or gratitude, and would be appropriate for a formal situation with a high ranking individual.
The traditional greeting of Japan has evolved in the multicultural board room to become a brief but respectful bow followed by a hand shake. Follow the cues of your Japanese associates, who will extend a hand if a shake is appropriate.
Exchanging Business Cards - Meishi Koukan
There are many nuances in the Japanese ritual of business card exchange, but these basics will get you started.
Those with the highest status exchange cards first, passing the card with the information facing the receiver. The card is traditionally offered with two hands but if the exchange is simultaneous then present your card with your right hand, holding it in the top corner.
The accompanying introduction is as simple as saying hello, then stating your name and the company you work for. Your associate will respond by thanking you for your card, confirming your name and expressing their pleasure at meeting you.
Once seated for your meeting, arrange the cards on the table top in correspondence with the order of seating. This shows respect for everyone present and is a fantastic way to learn names.
Talk The Talk
The Japanese will not expect you to know their language, but will be thrilled if you take the effort to learn a few key phrases. The words “please” (o-ne-ga-shi-ma-su), “thank you” (a-ri-ga-tou) and “it’s nice to meet you” (hai-ji-me-ma-shi-te) are a few easy wins. To really impress new acquaintences, learn the appropriate Japanese to accompany the meishi koukan.
Gift Giving - Omiyage
The Japanese have a beautiful custom called omiyage, which refers to bringing a souvenir home (usually edible) for your colleagues and family after returning from travel.
It is also customary for business associates to exchange gifts towards the end of a meeting, so come prepared. While Australia doesn’t have the exquisitely packaged omiyage treats that are profuse in Japan, quality edibles and souvenirs are always welcomed. Suggestions include macadamia chocolate and Australian wine, or stuffed koalas or kangaroos if you know your contact has children.
Make sure your gift is wrapped and carried in a bag, and when the time is right, present it with two hands.
The Japanese are famously reserved, but if you want to get to know your contacts on a more personal level there’s no better arena than a karaoke bar. Karaoke establishments with private booths are rife in Japanese cities, so book a session after your meeting and watch as even the most conservative businessman transforms into a jovial rockstar.