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Doing Business in Japan

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 16 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Doing Business In Japan Business

If you’ve ever wondered how much you need to learn about proper business etiquette here in the UK if you’ve read most of the articles on this website you’ll be overwhelmed if you ever travel to Japan to do business. An article here would never even get close to fulfilling the entire scope of Japanese business etiquette so the first bit of advice would be to read up on Japanese culture and etiquette as much as you can in order to be prepared. Nevertheless, here are some of the main issues you’ll need to consider.

Business Cards

These are discussed in more detail on another article on this website but just remember to take plenty – even 100 for each week you’re there might still not be enough and make sure they’re double-sided and that you present them with the Japanese version facing upwards. Don’t throw, slide, lob, push or flick your business card to anybody under any circumstances. Always present it with both hands and likewise accept one that’s offered to you with both hands also, bowing slightly as you accept it. Never play with the card, fidget with it or put it straight into your pocket. All the above are considered deeply offensive by the Japanese businessperson. So, remember Japanese people treat the giving and receiving of business cards very seriously.

Business Attire

Unlike the UK where an increasing number of companies are adopting a slightly less formal approach to business attire, the Japanese are still very formal in this regard. Dark navy or black suits with a white shirt and a neutral coloured tie are the norm. In the summer, when it’s hot and humid, short sleeve shirts (but still business-like, not polo shirts) are acceptable and worn by most Japanese businessmen. Most men adopt short, well groomed, conservative hairstyles. Shaven heads aren’t usually permitted, unless you’re going bald, obviously and beards tend to be a complete no-no. Naturally, this does not mean shaving your beard off before you go but it will stand out amongst a group of Japanese businessmen so you should be aware of that. Women might be horrified to learn that Japanese men often find it difficult to relate to high-powered, influential businesswomen.

However, this should not be taken as a snub. It’s more of their cultural upbringing as opposed to any sexist attitude so you shouldn’t be put off by that. However, in order to be taken seriously, you should wear conservative attire and, if you have long hair, it’s better if you tie it back. Trouser suits or skirt suits are usually the best choices and they are quite fashion conscious in Japan so designer label suits will be looked upon favourably.


The Japanese are very punctual so make sure you’re on time or even early for any meetings and, if you are going to be unavoidably delayed, make sure you inform your host at least an hour before the meeting is scheduled to begin. As well as being punctual, Japanese business meetings often run to an exact schedule so it’s useful to plan an agenda by the minute as it’s rare to find a Japanese meeting that will be extended from its allotted time. You should always wait to be seated in the meeting room as there is a specific hierarchical relationship between where you sit in relation to others at a meeting. Japanese business people are prolific note takers so you should do the same. Take down lots of notes because if you forget an important detail from the meeting, you can be certain your Japanese counterpart will have noted it which could be very embarrassing and expensive if you have failed to remember that unbelievable discount you’ve offered them.


Other things you should be wary of is never blow your nose in public, including meeting rooms, don’t rush to grab your Japanese counterpart’s hand and give it a mighty shake. Holding your hands together as if you were saying a prayer and bowing your head slightly is the Japanese equivalent to shaking hands. You should also never pat a Japanese man on the back or shoulder and do not make disparaging remarks, even in jest, about anybody, even their competitors. It is considered rude.

In general, smile, be willing to learn and interested in your client’s company or customer’s business. Feel free to ask them lot of questions about their business or role within the company but steer clear about talking about their family or personal life. The main things is do a bit of research before you go and, most importantly, make sure you’ve packed plenty of business cards.

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