Business trips to Japan - Rules to follow

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Joined: 23 May 2008

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Posted: 13 April 2009 at 6:35am | IP Logged

what do you think? Think we are different in the US or more or so the same?


Business trips to Japan

Our little rules of etiquette will help you to move with greater confidence in the international arena.

Greeting and bowing

In Japan it is not common to shake hands, to embrace somebody or to tap them on the shoulder– except at parties where people tend to let their hair down. People maintain their distance when greeting each other, they merely greet each other by name– anyone who invades another person's space will make them feel extremely uncomfortable. It says a lot about a person's status how people bow towards them. The deeper you bow and the longer you bow the more respect you show your counterpart. Given that you will not be familiar with the internal hierarchies of Japanese counterparts, you are advised to avoid the ritual of bowing. You may bow your head slightly.

You should remove your business card from a fancy business card holder and extend it to the other person with your right hand – or even better – with both hands, giving a slight bow.

Courtesy and harmony

Always be diplomatic and never openly criticize, insult, or put anyone on the spot. Avoid getting into an argument with Japanese men or women, who always avoid open conflict.

If there is a disagreement, suppress your personal feelings.

Dress code

There is a simple rule of thumb: dress to impress. Both men and women should go for a well-groomed, conservative look. Anyone who does not look well-groomed in Japan would be seen to be showing a lack of respect for their negotiating partner. Men and women can never go wrong if they wear classically cut suits.

Men should make sure always to wear immaculate black socks – above all when sitting on tatami mats – because people remove their shoes.

Dining at a restaurant

traditionelles essen ion japan
Rice is the daily bread for Japanese people. You will be expected to finish every last grain of rice in your bowl but remember that in Japan it is polite to leave a little bit left over. Practice eating with chopsticks beforehand –it will yield tremendous dividends if you learn to use chopsticks. Never pour a drink yourself; always allow someone else to do it for you. Always finish your sake. If you do not want a Japanese person to pay in a restaurant, mention this to the waiter at the start. Otherwise, the check will always go to a local.

A Japanese person would never pass on a restaurant check – it is deemed to be bad manners to deal with financial matters.


You can never rule out the possibility that you may be invited to go to a Karaoke bar. If you can sing German folk songs, you will automatically score points.


Please do not give knives or letter openers as gifts – they are deemed to symbolize bad luck in Japan. Do not be surprised if the person you are presenting your gift to puts it aside without even looking at it.

Anything else would be deemed greedy in Japan.

End of the meeting

If you would like to issue praise, it is best to make reference to your own weaknesses and not to the host's good organization. By expressing praise you may throw a Japanese person into consternation.

At the end of the meeting, ask your host for advice on some matter – that is the highest form of praise you can give.

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