Japanese Business Etiquette -How to Make a Good Impression-
November 17, 2021

Japanese business etiquette can be confusing even for Japanese people.

In this article, the very basic and common Japanese business etiquette will be introduced.

If you are going to start working at a Japanese company or will start working with one and would like to briefly learn their business etiquette, this article is for you!

The basic idea of Japanese business standards

The Japanese have always had strict protocols for showing respect toward others that applies for businesses as well.

They have sayings such as “When in Rome, do as Romans do.”, and “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”, which shows how important it is for them that people follow these protocols.

There are specific actions and ways to say things in certain situations which make these protocols more obvious than those of other countries.

But the fundamental ideas are the same, politeness and consideration toward others.

The most basic protocols are on appearance, actions, and what to say.

Specific Details

Appearance

First impressions are considered very important. Below are some things to keep in mind.

  • Business cards (or Meishi)

Make sure to prepare business cards that show information about yourself.

Also make sure to keep them in perfect condition without any scratches or wrinkles.

  • Clothing

Men usually wear black, dark blue or dark gray suits.

Women are expected to wear something that is professional looking.

Skirts should not be above knee level, shoulders should be covered and you should not have too much makeup on.

If you are a woman and would like to see what kind of clothes to wear, you should look up “business casual Japanese” on the internet. 

  • Hair

Men are expected to have short and neatly styled hairstyles.

For both men and women, natural hair colors are encouraged.

In the case of Japanese people, most have black hair or slightly brown hair.

 【Comment1】-About “Cool-biz”.

Out of the three factors, clothing may have changed the most in the past few years.

A few years ago, to reduce energy use, not wearing ties during summer was encouraged by the Japanese government.

People called it “Cool-biz”. Keep in mind though that it is still considered more polite to have your tie on.

Actions

When you visit a Japanese company, below are a few things to be careful of.

  • Arrive five to ten minutes before your appointment

It is considered more polite to arrive early. Make sure to arrive at least five minutes earlier.

  • Take off your coat

If it is during the winter and you have your coat on, take it off and hold it in your arms with the inside of your coat out so as not to drop any dirt that may be on your coat. 

  • Introduce yourself to the receptionists

After brief greetings, say your name, the name of your company, and the time and purpose of your appointment.

  • Knock

After you are led to your designated room, knock on the door before you enter and wait for someone to say that you can come in before you do so. 

  • Choose a seat that is closest to the door.

The seat farthest from the door is where people with the more superior positions or people who should be respected for any reason sit in.

If not indicated where to sit, it is safest to choose the seat closest to the door.

If someone tells you to sit at a specific seat though, you can.

  • Do not drink your tea until your business partner does.

A lot of companies will get you tea and some snacks.

It is considered more polite to thank them for it, but to not touch them until whoever offered it drinks them first.

  • exchange business cards.

Business cards should have information about yourself and your company.

There are strict protocols to exchanging business cards.

  • Bow before you leave

When you stand up, place your chair back the way it was before you sat on it, and bow before you come out of the room. 

【Comment2】-What meaning does Bowing have?

Bowing is a way to express many things in Japan.

You bow as you say almost any greeting including words of appreciation.

People oftentimes bow coming off the elevator.

It’s a way to say hello, thank you, I’m sorry, and goodbye. 

What to say

The Japanese Language has “Keigo” which is different polite ways of saying the same things depending on who you are saying that to.

Here are some examples that you can follow even if you are a non-speaker. 

  • add san after people’s last names

When you are trying to say someone’s name, you should add san to the last names of people.

If someone’s last name is Suzuki, you should call that person Suzuki-san.

If you want to be especially formal or if that person is superior to you, you can add sama at the end of last names and call the person Suzuki-sama.

  • Write polite greetings in the beginnings and ends of business emails

Any business email you write should have polite greetings caring for the other person, especially if you are writing it in Japanese.

【Comment3】-What is “Keigo”?

There is something called “Keigo” in Japanese which are words and phrases used to express respect towards the person you are talking to.

In some cases, the ending of a sentence may change. 

Closing

Most Japanese do understand that people from other countries have different ways to show respect.

They do not expect you to know all of their etiquettes and follow them as they would expect them to be followed by their Japanese colleagues, but will definitely be impressed if you did.

The fact that you read this article shows how considerate you are and how willing you are to learn Japanese culture.

I hope this article will help you when you do business with Japanese companies and interact with Japanese people!

References

  • ”【外国人向け】日本独特のビジネスマナー!名刺交換や商談・会議の座席位置など”

https://www.gtalent.jp/blog/japanwork/others/japan-business-manners

  • ”Business Etiquette in Japan: 17 Definitive Tips to Do Business With the Japanese”

https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo/in-pref-tokyo/in-tokyo_train_station/article-a0002470/

  • ”10 Japanese Business Etiquette Rules”

https://allabout-japan.com/en/article/2695/

Mai Kunieda

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