As the world’s second-largest economy, Japan will almost certainly be a target for any company that’s looking to grow its stature internationally. Conducting business in the Land of the Rising Sun can be hugely profitable and lead to the establishment of excellent, long term relationships, but getting a foot in the door can be quite a challenge in itself.
The key to establishing good relations with Japanese business partners is paying heed to the nuances of Japanese business etiquette – act like a local, show them your skill and finesse, demonstrate respect, and you’ll win many friends, but put a foot wrong and you’re likely to cause an offence which could ultimately cost you that deal.
How to act in a business situation
Anyone who has had experience doing business elsewhere in Asia might be shocked to discover that the Japanese way of doing things is quite different. Japanese business etiquette is particularly nuanced, with many formalities that need to be observed, much like some kind of ritual. Even so, those who are about to set out to the Far East should try not to feel intimidated. Pay attention to the following tips and you’ll get along just fine.
- Avoid blunt language and showing off: The Japanese tend to place more trust in people who come across as being compromising and humble. Those who appear to be rude, arrogant and confrontational will almost certainly be given the short shrift in any business negotiation. This extends to openly disagreeing about any point under discussion – rather than object loudly, the best way to disagree is to suggest that an alternative would be better.
- Don’t be shocked by direct questions: For example, questions such as “how old are you?” or “how much money do you make?” would appear rude in the west, but in Japan they are an essential part of establishing relationships. Like all Asian cultures, Japanese is very hierarchal, and your new-found colleagues will be quite direct in their questioning so that they can familiarize themselves with you.
- Exchanging business cards: This is done at the start of any meeting, as formal introductions are made. Be sure to prepare business cards with a Japanese translation on one side, as this shows you are respectful of your hosts and ready to do business with them. The actual exchange has its own little ritual – when handing over your card, you should bow slightly whilst holding it face up (Japanese side) so the person receiving can read it easily. When you receive your host’s card, be sure to read it carefully before putting it away, as not doing so would be viewed as disrespectful.
- Translate all documents into Japanese: This will give you both credibility and legitimacy, and demonstrate that you are serious about doing business with your hosts.
- Bring an interpreter: No need to explain this one, but bear in mind that even if you’re Japanese is quite proficient, hiring an interpreter would be taken as a sign of your seriousness to do business, and add prestige to your professional image.
A few notes about Japanese translations
When translating any official documents there are a few things to consider. Your reputation, or your ‘face’, is very important in Japan, and so you should strive to ensure that any translated documents you hand over are of the very best quality. Presenting poor quality translations, littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, will make you and your company look unprofessional in the eyes of your host, and image is everything as far as the Japanese are concerned. If your host decides that you’re unprofessional, he’ll almost certainly cancel the deal.
The other reason for ensuring high quality and accuracy is that you don’t want to distort your message. The recipient needs to understand every single aspect of your proposal, with no misunderstandings whatsoever. One simple misinterpretation of even a relatively minor fact could easily result in the deal going sour.
Finally, one more thing to consider, if you really want to go all-out, is Japanese localization. There are quite a few different dialects of Japanese language – for example Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto all speak slightly different variations. By localizing your company’s brochure or its proposal, this is a clear statement that you have done your homework and are striving to impress, and will almost certainly be well received.