Welcome to a beginner’s guide to Japanese business etiquette.
Known for its unique cultural practices, unlocking career success in Japan can be a considerable hurdle for many. Nikkei Asian Review, in particular, found that many foreigners face significant cultural challenges in Japan. They also noted that a large portion of foreigners found it difficult to connect with their Japanese colleagues.
When it comes to business, Australians and Japanese differ in many ways. Take, for example, the Japanese dress code for job seekers. Young Japanese people dress in black and white business suits, whereas in Australia you’re free to colour coordinate your formal wear. The reason being that in Japan similar dress tends to make them appear more as a group, but in Australia, wearing different kinds of formal wear reflects individuality and helps you stand out. Hence, moving to Japan for work can be a daunting experience.
Don’t worry though, Asia Options Japan Team is here for the rescue.
1. Business Cards
For finding career success in Japan, business cards are an essential practice during introductory meetings. Many Japanese have separate business card holders and the whole practice is based on a relationship-building business model. Mayumi Otsubo says that you can exchange cards anywhere in any situation. Be it at the company organised meals, orientation meetings or when commuting to work. The card includes a person’s title, rank and contact details. It introduces you and opens a channel for future networking. When receiving business cards, it is important to show respect. Doing so affirms that you’ll respect them if you engage in business later.
Exchanging while standing
Hand your business card with two hands and receive one in the same fashion. Bowing is important and depends largely on the status of the person as a form of respect. Asialink warns of receiving the card by one hand or shoving it away in your pocket. Imagine how it would make you feel if someone does that with your card? So, screen the card for a few seconds to review their information, and make a comment or two if there’s time to do so.
Exchanging while sitting
Hand your business card with two hands and receive theirs in the same way. Place the received card on the desk, and continue this for the entirety of your interaction. If printed in many languages, face the Japanese side up. If needed, place the senior-most person’s card at the top. Follow that pattern and place their subordinates’ card after or below their boss. This is because Japan follows a strict code of social hierarchies at work.
2. Bow V.S Handshake
Avoid getting stuck in an awkward situation. It is okay to wait for a Japanese person to greet you. If extended in a form of a handshake, it’s only appropriate to shake their hand. Due to a rise of foreign workers in Japan, many companies are adapting to the western concept of a handshake. So do your homework and know whether you’ll be meeting a senior official or a fellow entry-level professional.
Culture Atlas explains this well. The casual bow requires bending a bit from the waist and a quick nod of acknowledgement. It is especially handy as a form of informal greeting. However, formal interactions need a deeper bow, with a bend from the waist for about 30 degrees. A 45-degree bow shows a respected professional your deepest appreciation. The deepest bow of around 70 degrees expresses the sincerest apology. If offering this bow, make sure your eyes are not met with the receivers.
3. Gift Giving
Giving a gift to a colleague is an appreciated gesture in Japan, especially if you are on a business trip. It displays humility after completing a successful business trip. It also expresses gratitude to the team that handled the workload on your behalf while you were away. If refused, it’s better to be modest enough to get one in the first place.
Mariott says this ‘common’ gesture may not be so ‘common’ to foreigners. It may sound like a stressful obligation to ‘fit in’. It can be hard sometimes to determine the type, selection and timing of a gift depending on the recipient’s status at work. The safest and the easiest way to go about it is to buy souvenirs (omiyage) from the place you visited. It’s unique and you can buy bulk for cheap which means it’s shareable to most. If you’re bringing a gift for your boss – something a bit exclusive is common. At least once in your entire working relationship.
Japan focuses on relationship-building and is a group-oriented society. These detailed etiquettes can go a long way in building support and rapport at work. It could also help you build your intercultural communication skills as a bonus too!