Japan is one of the oldest monarchies in the world with the dynasty of the current emperor is said to have been started in 600 B.C. Doing business in Japan is still shaped by the cultural norms and traditions, so it’s important to understand their culture if you’re interested in doing business with the Japanese.
The first point to remember is that Japanese don’t like the public displays of emotions, so a strong ‘poker face’ is of great help. Try not to show any signs of shock or anger during business negotiations; if you’re not able to restrain your emotions you might be seen as a person lacking self-control which would lead to questions whether you are the right business partner.
Furthermore, don’t be surprised if your Japanese counterparts will ask you many questions about yourself, your job, including what are your duties, responsibilities and how many people report to you. Through these sorts of questions they are trying to assess your seniority in the business and your status, so they can better understand how to communicate with you. This approach comes from the complexity of the Japanese language, as there are many ways for address and honorifics, and there are at least four different levels of politeness that can be used in most sentences.
The Japanese are very protective of their culture and language. They have a view that they are genetically unique and try to protect that uniqueness as much as they can. They discourage large numbers of foreigners from coming to Japan and settling in their country. They actually view foreigners as a source of violence and crime in Japan. Even Korean workers living in Japan for several generations are not able to obtain a full Japanese citizenship. This prejudice can even be extended to native Japanese people who spend too much time studying or working overseas!
Another thing to remember point out is that during business meetings the younger staff in your team should remain quiet and only speak with the senior members of their team if they wish to convey something. They do have a role in business negotiations however; it is going out to night clubs with the younger members of the Japanese team. Often, the Japanese will convey important feedback about the deal through the younger members, such as: ‘Our boss doesn’t like the proposal put through from your team’. Therefore, it’s very important to establish relationships between the representative parts of both teams.
During conversations it’s important to avoid using negatively phrased questions as the answer might be misunderstood. For instance, if you ask: Doesn’t your board of directors want to sell product X? If the answer is Yes, they actually mean Yes, the board does not want to sell; whereas an English native would reply No, the board does not want to sell. Therefore, it’s crucial to phrase your questions carefully, so there won’t be any misunderstandings.
Also, hard-sell approach will most likely fail in Japan. Instead, it’s best to find the points that both parties agree upon and build the deal from there. This would lead to a positive and persuasive approach rather than a confrontational one. In addition, if you wish to present a cooperative spirit to the negotiations bring a Japanese lawyer instead of a Western one. It will be perceived as a sign that you strongly care about the deal.
Also, business cards are extremely important in establishing your credentials. The English side would benefit from adding extra information on membership in professional associations. The Japanese side should be translated by a professional translator and ideally checked by your Japanese representative. The card should be presented right after the handshake and when you exchange cards the Japanese side should be facing up so it can be easily read. Take time to study the cards you receive and don’t write on them or put them in your back pocket.
Japanese culture is truly fascinating and we’ll most likely going to post further tips in the future, but for now, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or any Japanese translation requirements.