Business Etiquette Tips for Meetings and Travel in Japan

Business Etiquette Tips for Meetings and Travel in Japan

Japan blossoms with life and tradition. The island, home to over 127 million people, is known for beauty and innovation. In Japan, you’ll find many unique microcosms of culture, tradition and lifestyles.

In this post, PGi’s Meetings Experts, Ayumi Gonno, Megumi Ozaki and Ryosuke Oka, share some of their best advice and tips for participating in business meetings in Japan. You will find that Japanese business traditions are much different than American business etiquette.

Q: How do you greet and say goodbye to a colleague or client?

A: “Otsukaresamadesu” is a greeting that we use to greet colleagues in Japan. It is an expression used mostly in a working environment to express gratitude for the good and hard work he or she is doing. This phrase includes multiple meanings such as “hello,” “how’s it going,” “see you tomorrow” or “good work.”

For formal business meetings in Japan, the Japanese bow in many different situations. It is important not to shake hands, and bows must be given and received in order of precedence.

Q: Where do business meetings in Japan usually take place?

A: We have meetings mostly in conference rooms to avoid disturbing others and keep the conversation to ourselves. We will often meet with clients via virtual meetings with products like GlobalMeet or iMeet if they cannot come in person or are in different countries.

Q: What are some small talk topics to kick the meeting off? And what topics should be avoided?

A: Weather, news and baseball are usually talked about as small talk topics. We do not want to talk about politics or religion, because these topics might heat up and end up offending others.

Q: What are the best times to request meetings?

A: Early morning or late afternoon is a good time. Midday is not so good, because people are usually busy during the day. Business hours in Japan are from 9:00 to 17:00.

Q: How should I schedule business meetings in Japan? And what do I need to supply before the meeting?

A: Schedule an external meeting by email or phone call. For an internal meeting, I send Outlook invitation to the members. If it is possible, it is better to send an agenda before the meeting.

Q: Should I schedule a lunch or dinner meeting? What is the etiquette for sharing a meal?

A: There’s nothing against taking meals with business associates if necessary. If it is a buyer-seller relationship, the seller should make the reservation. It would be better to reserve a quiet place with a separated room and think of the client’s food preference.

Q: At the meeting, what should I provide and prepare?

A: Business cards are indispensable for external meetings. Power Point presentations help the audience deepen his/her understanding. Snacks will be good for the meeting such as brainstorming, but only for internal meetings as it is usually taken as being impolite.

Q: How long should the meetings be?

A: Duration depends on the meeting, but as common sense I would say 30-90 minutes. It would be hard to keep everybody concentrated for any longer. Small talk should be only for 5 or 10 minutes.

Q: What can I do to encourage collaborative discussion during the meeting?

A: It’s important to listen more than talk because no one will interrupt you. I’ll try to hear from as many members as possible to encourage collaborative discussion.

Q: What should I wear to business meetings in Japan?

A: Business suit or casual office dressing; it depends on the type of meeting. The “Cool Biz” style is recommended in summer. Government policy has been encouraging workers to dress lightly during the summer time to save energy and stop global warming.

Q: What should I do after the meeting?

A: An email with a “thank you” is good. If you used a Power Point for the presentation, it would be appreciated to have it attached on the email. And include action items.

Q: What else should visitors to your country know?

You also need to know where to sit, depending on your rank. Guests sit on the farthest side of the table from the door, and the host on the side of the door. The farther you get from the door, the higher the rank. Do not shake hands, bow only and don’t use first names until you are friends.

When in Japan, ask your coworkers to take you sightseeing, for cuisine or to one of the many activities inside the city (karaoke, shopping, cuisine, arcades and more).

Have more questions about the do’s and don’ts of business meetings in Japan? Feel free to comment below and we’ll do our best to address your question!

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Photo courtesy of Lonely Planet.

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