The Latest! Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos for Japan
A Series of Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z
Cultural Clues & Communication Guidelines for Japan
It’s easy for business travelers to think that even when they travel, business is going to be done pretty much the same way it is at home. But that’s not always the case. Cultural differences can have a big impact on global business etiquette. That’s why it’s important for business travelers to make sure that they understand the culture of the country that they’re doing business in.
This article on cultural differences in Japan and cultural travel tips for Japan is a brief snapshot of conversation guidelines for Japan tips for communicating in Japan, and business strategies for Japan to help with understanding the culture in Japan. It’s important to keep in mind that as we homogenize as a ‘global culture’, cultural tendencies change and evolve as well. Awareness is the first step when it comes to cultural do’s and taboos for Japan and tips for intercultural communication!
Cultural Tips for Japan – including some valuable business travel tips for Japan
Punctuality is necessary when doing business in Japan because the Japanese believe it is rude to be late.
Business cards (“meishi”) are an important part of doing business in Japan and key for establishing credentials. It’s preferable to have one side of your card printed in English and the reverse in Japanese.
It is traditional to present your card with the Japanese side facing up, held with both hands between the thumbs and the forefingers. However, don’t be surprised if your Japanese counterpart greets you with a westernized business card exchange!
When receiving a business card, carefully examine it and make an interesting remark about the person’s title or occupation. Then place it on a nearby table during a meeting or in your card case if not meeting at that time. Stuffing it into a pocket is considered disrespectful. Writing on a business card is also inappropriate.
Card exchanges may be accompanied by a slight bow, which is usually lower based on the age and hierarchy of the person receiving the card.
The bow is an important part of Japanese business protocol. Bows are used for expressing appreciation, making apologies and requests, as well as for greetings and farewells. Bows convey both respect and humility.
The depth of the bow depends on the recipient’s rank and status. When bowing to an individual who is of higher status than you, bow a little lower than that person to display deference. Do the same if you are uncertain of the status of the person that you are facing. With a person of your equivalent status, bow at the same height.
The Japanese will usually shake hands with Westerners as a way of making them feel comfortable. In turn, it’s helpful for Westerners to bow slightly to demonstrate that they are also taking the initiative to learn some Japanese customs.
The simple gesture of learning some of the important Japanese customs can do a lot to help a businessperson in establishing rapport with a potential Japanese client.
Maintaining “correct” relationships between people and keeping harmony within groups and teams is considered to be very important.
Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese business protocol. It is a good policy to bring an assortment of gifts for your trip. This way, if you are unexpectedly presented with a gift, you will be able to reciprocate.
Be especially respectful to your older Japanese counterparts–age equals rank in the Japanese business culture. When you start speaking, it is polite to direct your first remarks to the most senior member, and then to appropriate individuals.
You may be asked some personal questions regarding your salary, education, and family life. If you don’t want to answer, remain polite and gracefully side-step the question.
Be careful when asking the Japanese certain questions. If the response is “maybe”, “possibly”, or “I’ll consider it”, the answer is very possibly “no”. The Japanese prefer to avoid saying “no” directly.
Meanings may be read into even the slightest gestures. Consequently, avoid displaying unusual facial expressions and motioning in ways that are remotely dramatic or expansive.
The American “O.K.” sign (thumb and forefinger shaped into an “O”) actually means “money” in Japan.
Instead of pointing, which is considered rude, use your whole open hand to point.
Blowing one’s nose in public is regarded as impolite. When necessary, use a disposable tissue and then throw it out immediately. The Japanese find the idea of keeping a used handkerchief or tissue in a pocket disgusting.
Laughter may indicate embarrassment or distress, rather than amusement. Smiling can also be used for self-control, particularly in masking displeasure.
It is considered polite to periodically say “I’m sorry.” For example, the Japanese will apologize for not being punctual enough, having a cold, taking you to a disappointing restaurant etc. Visitors are encouraged to incorporate similar apologies into their conversation.
“Saving face” is a very important concept to understand. When a person loses his or her composure or otherwise causes embarrassment, even unintentionally (“losing face”), it can be disastrous for business relationships.
5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Tips
Inquiring about a person’s family is a good conversation starter
Praising and commenting on the Japanese hospitality
Japanese history and artistic achievements
Positive comments about the Japanese economy
Sports, such as golf and ski jumping
5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Taboos
World War II
Jokes, unless they are very easy to understand, self-deprecating, and made in a social setting
Criticizing in any form that could cause “loss of face”
Ridicule of Japanese social / business rituals and protocol
Negative comments about the local sports teams
Join us in the future for Do’s and Taboos for JORDAN!
To learn more about the Dos and Taboos for different cultures, and the cultural communication styles for Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order Gayle Cotton’s bestselling book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’ available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book
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Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, which is available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and a Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural training. She is a leader in the field of public speakers, motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. She is among the best of female keynote speakers and women motivational speakers and is a ‘first choice’ request for international audiences!
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