The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – Japan

Who should read this: If you’re planning on working or doing any business in Japan this little pocket guide is a must-read.

Rochelle Kopp is the author of 23+ books in Japanese and several others in English about cross-cultural communication. She’s been doing this for over twenty years and is one of the leading experts on how to get past not only language, but cultural/philosophical barriers, both for Japanese companies expanding abroad as well as foreign companies coming to Japan.

When I was working full time in Tokyo I attended one of her seminars that covered best practices and tips on how to better manage and get through to Japanese employees. Although I had already studied in Tokyo for a year and had been working in Japan for 3+ years, a lot of the information hit home with me and was straightforward to implement at work.

For example, nemawashi was a practice I had (very frustratedly) observed others doing  but never fully grasped the concept (nemawashi = “a kind of consensus-based decision-making, where all possible stakeholders are consulted about a decision, usually in a very informal way to start with. Through this process, a consensus slowly emerges”).

There’s also a short guide to practical Japanese phrases at the end. The whole ebook is rather short and in a Q&A format that’s very pointed and straightforward.

She answers the following questions and much more: 

  1. Why doesn’t irony and sarcasm work in Japan?
  2. Why don’t Japanese people give a lot of feedback?
  3. Why do Japanese people avoid risk? 
  4. How do you tell if a yes is a yes?
  5. How do I disagree without offending?

Quotes from the book: 

The concept of “meiwaku”

Often Japanese people are so concerned not to cause meiwaku (annoyance to others), or are so busy wondering what other people are thinking or wanting, that they do not say what they want for themselves. If you can second guess this, and offer them a drink when you think they might be thirsty, or sense that someone needs a break because they are tired, your sensitivity and consideration will certainly be noticed. And, as with the Buddhist concept of karma, “what goes around comes around” – and you will find yourself being treated even better in return.

The “off-mi” or pre-meeting

Japanese people are great ones for “pre-meetings” or “off-mi,” meaning offline meetings. The first meeting you have may well just be a preliminary, getting-to-know-you meeting. Then there will be another meeting among the Japanese participants to swap impressions. Then you might be invited back for more in-depth discussions, probably with the people who are more directly involved in working with you

Practical tips for business dinners 

With group dishes, there will be a common dish in the center of the table that everyone takes from. When taking things from this dish, turn your chopsticks around and use the opposite end – that is, the end you aren’t putting in your mouth.

Business Etiquette – Japan Notebook


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