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Things to Know About Japanese Business Etiquette
Doing business in Japan can be a whirlwind as intense as the city streets. When it comes to the culture, you might find yourself in situations that you would never know how to handle and can end up making grievous social faux pas. To avoid making mistakes, consult with your legal English to Japanese interpreter about what behavior to expect during negotiations with the Japanese.
Here are things you must know about Japanese business etiquette.
The Japanese are systematic, pragmatic people in terms of business. The society holds promptness, seriousness, and conservatism in high regard; especially during important corporate and judicial meetings or cases. Those who meet show respect to one another, even if discussion gets heated or does not go positively for all members involved. Keep this idea of the Japanese in mind when reading the following dos and don’ts of business formalities.
Greeting and Meeting
When first meeting a potential business partner or client, Japanese people will bow to one another upon being introduced. Bow, but wait to see if the person(s) you are meeting with initiates a handshake. This is rare, however.
Following shortly after that is the customary exchange of name cards (business cards) that are printed with their name, job title, and contact information. This card is called a 名刺（めいし/meishi）.
Do note that you may move to sitting prior to exchanging business cards. In this case, never take a seat without being shown where to go or being asked to. This is due to status. For example, no one sits before the CEO at the meeting, and higher board members will sit closer to their superior. If you are the one bringing in someone to speak with, do not forget to offer them a place to sit, as they just might remain awkwardly standing.
When a Japanese person is speaking with you through an English to Japanese interpreter, be sure to give them some kind action or affirmation so that they know you are invested. This can be done by nodding. However, you also do not want to stare straight at them the entire time. Staring is considered incredibly rude. In fact, the Japanese will often not meet you gaze when speaking.
Never interrupt a Japanese speaker, particularly if their hierarchical rank is higher than yours.
Do not be surprised if discussions lapse into silence. The Japanese happen to value silence. It is considered a moment in conversation where tension disperses and harmony is maintained.
Also be aware that in American and European cultures where touching someone on the shoulder or exchanging a hug or kiss is considered perfectly normal and even a tradition in some cultures, it is the exact opposite in Japan. Signs of friendliness or affection are removed entirely from business.
When sitting in a business atmosphere, never allow yourself to slouch. Do not even cross your legs. Instead, sit with a long spine and both feet on the floor. Fold your hands onto your lap. Avoid putting your hands on the tabletop.
Japanese Corporate Customs
The first thing most English-speakers forget about business is the saying, “If you are on time in Japan, you are already late.” Showing up late in Japan is seen as terribly impolite. Time is valued in Japan, and no one likes feeling as if the time they set aside for you is not important. Always arrive at least 5 minutes early to every business meeting.
Never “hard-sell.” A confrontational appeal might work elsewhere, but it will not work in Japan. Establish trustworthiness in yourself by proving your reliability to those you are working with. This may take several meetings and a couple pitches. Since Japan is a group-culture, one person cannot make a decision that impacts the whole. Without everyone on board, the Japanese will not buy into your proposal.
Here’s a surprise: Doing business in Japan is half at the office and half at the bar. Despite going out to get alcohol and building relationships, try not to go too wild. Other customs apply to going out the dinner or drinking, as well—such as not sitting before those with more seniority. When offered a drink, accept it. If you do not want to drink more, do not empty your cup. If you want more to drink, you must fill the cups of those around you first. Same goes for food. Learn chopsticks manners, too.
Although doing business anywhere often entails wearing a tailored suit or pant set, it’s infinitely more important in Japan. Never wear flagrant colors. Men need a navy blue or black suit with a white button down. Women should wear a skirt. Refrain from make-up or pungent scents.
For success with your case in Japan or in dealing with Japanese-speaking clients, do not overlook the cultural formalities. Knowing how to dress, speak, and that blowing your nose in public is a no-no is crucial. Paying attention to these traditional practices will show your eagerness to form a good relationship with the Japanese counterparts and clients. That eagerness combined with Japanese to English legal document translations provided by a trusted legal translation service will earn your law firm respect in Japan and beyond.