Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture


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When doing business in Japan, lunch and inexpensive gifts are becoming a standard. You may find that Japanese will politely refuse gifts, especially early in a relationship, for fear that the gift will create an unwanted obligation.

Doing Business in Japan

See best practices for gift giving in China here. Businesses across the Pacific Ocean are poles apart to how business is conducted in America. Be aware of these cultural differences to develop a meaningful international business relationship when doing business Japan.

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Doing Business In Japan: 4 Cultural Differences Establishing meaningful international business relationships means that you must go further than just understanding the language. Currently, the Japanese economy has a strong outlook for future quarters. Here are four of those differences: Directness versus in between the lines Americans tend to be very direct and not afraid to speak their mind when communicating.

Facts versus emotions Americans tend to communicate through facts and opinions. Speed versus consistency American companies tend to make fast decisions based on the information available at the time. Gift giving Gift giving is known in the past to be a normal part of business, but in today's society, gift giving needs to be a cautious act. In Japan relationships aren't so balanced; the customer is deemed more important. As a gesture of deference, it is the custom to drop the '-san' at the end of a coworker's last name when referring to him in your customer's presence.

There are a few words in Japanese that many Americans have heard at one time or another. And Sayonara is likely one of them. But it doesn't exactly mean what most think it means. A few years ago a colleague of mine, let's call him John, told me how he learned what sayonara meant, the hard way. After months of discussion with a potential Japanese customer, a deal between the two companies finally looked imminent. A meeting was set to go over some remaining details, at which time the Japanese customer mentioned to John that his competitor had come in with a new price quote that was significantly lower than John's pricing.

When the Japanese customer asked if John could meet the price, John said it would be difficult, but that he would try.


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When the meeting ended, John turned to the customer and casually said, "Sayonara! The following week John contacted the Japanese customer to say that his company could match the competitor's pricing. We thought you were not able to meet the pricing, so we are sorry to say, we gave the business to your competitor.

Doing Business In Japan: 4 Cultural Differences

If you enjoyed this article, and would like to receive more in-depth reports, and complimentary e-books, sign up for our free newsletter. Stuart can also be reached directly by email at stuartf global-context. For more articles like this, check out the Global Context blog. World globe An icon of the world globe, indicating different international options. Search icon A magnifying glass.

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It indicates, "Click to perform a search". Close icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. It indicates a way to close an interaction, or dismiss a notification. Stuart Friedman , Global Context. Facebook Icon The letter F. Link icon An image of a chain link. While in Japan, it is not commonplace to use san with last names when speaking about anyone in your company, including those that maintain higher positions.

This demonstrates your respect for their accomplishments.

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If he insists that you use his first name, it is then appropriate to use that name. It should be noted, however, that Japanese typically will not asked to be called by their first name until there is a sustained, long-lasting relationship. Formality at meetings is common, and often can be misinterpreted. A very interesting example is nodding. Japanese business people tend to show politeness to the other party, and tend to nod, meaning that they listen well and understand, even at a negotiation table.

However, Americans may interpret nodding to suggest agreement. This is very common mistake and can lead to misunderstandings. Therefore it is very important to ensure alignment and avoid misunderstanding, to confirm via written minutes or summary what both parties talked about, any decisions that were made, and action or follow-up items discussed. Long-Term Relationships The Japanese value relationships, so it is important to cultivate and build long-term relationships.


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Certainly, building a long-term relationship takes time and likely requires many interactions with one another. It is generally a good sign if an invitation to dinner is extended, and this is an important time for continuing to build the relationship with more casual conversation. Japanese business people value honesty, and will appreciate it if you can honestly talk about what you need from the Japanese company.

If you are invited to a social networking event, consider yourself to be a valued partner. If you have been able to cultivate a relationship with a Japanese company to such an extent that you are invited to gatherings of this type, you can expect that your relationship is solid, and will benefit you as you begin to expand your network across Japan.

Corporate-wide relationship-building can be much tougher than at an individual level because it involves multiple people and moving parts. As with many development programs, there may be longer-term potential opportunity for a continued relationship beyond a single product or deal. While, of course, the desire for a long-term relationship is a good thing to show, the Japanese company may want to take a step-by-step approach and focus on the first item or product deal.

It is important to respect the process and have patience for the benefit of the long-term relationship. Trust and honesty are key components to creating such long-lasting relationships, and while this characteristic is not unique to Japan, be prepared for what is typically a longer process in Japan. The customs and formalities all relate to respect and building trust, which is ultimately what a successful long-term relationship can be based on.

Each country naturally has its own business manner and customary practices, and of course, you should value and respect all of them. It is always important for you to be dedicated to sound and clear science and good business practices, and be true to yourself without getting overly hung up with tradition and formal details.

Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture
Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture
Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture
Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture
Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture
Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture
Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture
Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture Japan: Doing Business in a Unique Culture

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