Peak Translations

‘How to karaoke like the Japanese’

There is so much more to Japan than its vibrant and dynamic capital, Tokyo, its Samurai history, the Japanese love of karaoke and its sushi, bonsai and karma sutra credentials. Japan tells a fascinating cultural story with its rich and diverse history and its wealth of unique cultural quirks, such as the country’s raw horsemeat diet and its Footloose-esque late night dancing ban, which was only recently lifted in 2015! U2’s song “Where the Streets Have No Name” would also be rather apt for one of Japan’s geographical anomalies, as there are many Japanese streets that have no name!

Aside from these interesting cultural facts, Japan is an economic powerhouse that invites the world to extend their business ventures to its highly sophisticated and innovative doors. As with initiating any international business negotiation, it always helps to be prepared. You wouldn’t turn up to an athletics meet without training or warming up. The same applies to entering into new business relations. Below are some tips that are just the icing on the cake: –

The ritual of the ‘Meishi’

Business cards hold so much importance in the Japanese business world they are as essential to a business meeting as a beating heart to live.

  1. You can’t ever take enough business cards with you on a trip to Japan. It is suggested that as many as 100 would see you through a week of meetings.
  2. Double-sided cards are pretty much a requisite, where one side should be in English and the other side translated into Japanese.
  3. The ritualistic art of presenting a business card is almost like giving a performance; whilst offering the card with both hands showing the Japanese side facing forward, it is necessary to bow slightly. Make sure your first port of call is with the most senior member of the Japanese business meeting.
  4. Respectful conduct in receiving their business card is equally as significant. Rule of thumb is to accept with both hands expressing thanks in the form of an English ‘Thank you’ or more impressively with the Japanese expression ‘Hajimemashite’ (Pleased to meet you).
  5. Absolute taboos in Japanese business card etiquette are writing on the card, playing with it and absentmindedly putting it in your pocket. These actions are considered extremely disrespectful and would more than likely risk damaging your business relationship. To avoid such blunders it would be better to carry a business card case.

Conservative dress code

Like the Chinese business culture, work attire requires a sophisticated, conservative and formal look. Dressing to impress is the nature of the game.

 Business meeting etiquette

Dating back to the era of the Samurai, seating arrangements is hierarchical. To avoid offending and losing face, it would be wise to wait to be seated. Moreover, during a meeting, note taking is integral to showing your counterparts you mean business. It shows very good Japanese business etiquette.

The art of greeting

Handshakes are off limits. Not only would it make your potential business partners feel awkward; it could feasibly jeopardise the alliance. Similarly greet the most senior person first.

Business meeting convention

There are many Japanese proverbs relating to silence, including ‘Iwanu ga hana’ (Not-speaking is the flower/Silence is golden). Learn to be discreet in a business meeting, especially in the initial stages of affiliation, being silent shows integrity.

Building rapport

Drop the hard sell and pushy deadlines; being less confrontational and gently persuasive will go much further to solidifying a long-lasting business relationship.

Above all, remember that initial business meetings are the most important time to be aware of cultural protocol, in particular regarding formalities. However, over time as the business relationship becomes more grounded, the importance of these cultural conventions will lessen.


By Madeline Prusmann (Project Manager) October 2016





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