Japanese Culture

Business Culture


  • The Japanese take punctuality seriously, so it is important to arrive on time. If you are late, be sure to make an apology for your tardiness.
  • Bow to the most senior businessman first and do so as low as he does. However, watch to see if he extends his hand to shake instead.
  • Japanese colleagues may applaud when you are introduced to greet you and show approval. If so, it is appropriate to applaud back.
  • You are expected to greet everyone in the room individually—even if the group is large.
  • Receiving Business Cards: Asian culture interprets the respect you show someone's business card to be indicative of the respect you will show the individual in business. Use both hands (or the right hand only) to receive a business card. Do not put the card away immediately, but first regard it carefully and place it in front of you on the table until everyone is seated. Do not put it in the back pocket of your pants as this could be interpreted as you sitting on their face. Similarly, do not write on a card unless directed to do so.
  • Presenting Business Cards: Use both hands (or the right hand only) when presenting a business card, making sure the writing is facing the other person. Do not deal out your cards as if you were playing a game of cards as this risks being interpreted as rude.
  • Allow a few moments of social conversation to pass before mentioning business.
  • Traditionally, the host will give a quick speech to greet everyone before discussing the topic of business.
  • Be sure to emphasise the status, size, reputation and wealth of your company.
  • When it’s your turn to speak, provide plenty of information about your company, history, context of the negations and all of its corresponding details. If you do not, expect to be asked many questions until you’ve covered all of this information.
  • Giving a small gift is an appreciated gesture in Japanese business culture.
  • Refrain from interrupting others as it is considered rude to do so. Furthermore, if the natural conversation dynamic between you and your colleagues is to talk over each other, a Japanese person will not interrupt you to make their point heard. Therefore, try to slow down and pause between your points in order to give them an opportunity to speak.

Group Oriented

One of the most important things to remember when doing business with a Japanese person is that, though you may distinguish them as an individual, they may regard themselves as a representative or spokesperson of their company (as well as Japan). This group-orientation means an individual often cannot decide on matters there and then without first consulting with their ‘team’.

Within each ‘team’, each individual has a different speciality. They are likely to ask the questions that relate to their field of knowledge and, therefore, you may find yourself being questioned by many people during a meeting. This is for the purpose of gathering information, not judgment. They are unlikely to make a decision based on any single answer.

The negotiation process is much slower than what most Westerners are used to, so be patient and expect processes to involve a great deal of correspondence. You will likely meet with a different team at the second meeting, and even a third depending on how large their company is. Do not expect to come to a decision after a first or even second meeting. The decisions are made through group consensus after referral back to the head office. That being said, your Japanese partner will be more flexible to negotiate and compromise in between meetings when they are in the position to check with their superior.

Make sure your own company is in agreement about your goal before meeting with a Japanese company. If you give them reason to believe that there is not harmony and cooperation within your team, they may be wary of doing business with you.

Relationship Oriented

The Japanese are very relationship-oriented in business. They rarely consider a ‘quick deal’ and prefer to cultivate partnerships that will endure. As a part of this long-term approach in business relationships, they tend to want to know a great deal about their partners in order to build the trust and loyalty needed to support business in the future. You may consider many of the details and questions asked to be irrelevant or unrelated to the point at hand, but try to be patient and provide answers for the sake of the business relationship.

Moreover, the Japanese make pleasant business partners as they favour sending seasonal greeting cards and keeping correspondence over time to maintain these relationships. However, their focus on long-term loyalty and trust can forfeit short-term immediate profit which often frustrates Westerners.

The Japanese also regard contracts more as agreements of willingness to do business. The actual specifications of limitations and regulations of a deal are negotiable depending on the business relationship. Because of this, an Australian may find Japanese contracts vague. However, be aware that a request for a more comprehensive document could jeopardise trust.


  • To avoid bluntly refusing your offer or impolitely exiting a deal, a Japanese partner may simply become impossible to contact. Take the hint if he/she is ill, on vacation or attending a funeral every time you make contact.
  • When there is a point of tension or difficulty that can’t be resolved, Japanese business people sometimes resort to sitting in silence. This is their way of allowing the conversation to simmer back to harmony so that there is a clear space for a new topic of discussion. Westerners often find such silence awkward, but try to resist the inclination to disrupt it or to continue to press the issue.
  • A Japanese businessman’s preoccupation with saving face means that he will often smile and nod even when he does not understand what you are saying. Therefore, translate all documents you provide into Japanese if possible.
  • For the sake of saving face, the Japanese will seldom give a flat negative response to your proposals—even when they don’t agree with it. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen closely to what they say, but also pay close attention to what they don’t say and double check your understanding.
  • A Japanese business person may shut their eyes while you are speaking. This does not indicate boredom, but rather that they are concentrating very intently on what you are saying.
  • In a meeting, avoid telling jokes unless they are self-deprecating and easy to grasp.
  • Do not reject a Japanese proposal immediately as you risk being interpreted as criticising the person who made it.
  • On the Corruption Perception Index (2017), Japan ranks 20th out of 176 countries, receiving a score of 73 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat clean from corruption.
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