Secrets of Japanese Business Etiquette: Personal Habits

This is the fifth blog in our series of Secrets of Japanese Business Etiquette (How not to Faux Pas). In particular, it will discuss personal habits to keep in check when conducting business in Japan. 

There has been much written about Japanese business etiquette, but sadly much of it seems written by people who have not been to Japan for many years. Also, most guides do not take into consideration that Japan is a clash of traditions and modernity. This is why we have come up with our Business etiquette series which covers:

      1. Greetings and Bowing
      2. Japanese Business Cards
      3. Business attire
      4. Business meetings
      5. Personal habits
      6. Extra tips on how not to insult a Japanese

 

Personal Habits

Japanese society is unusually formal, polite, and conformist. Attributes which, especially formality, permeate the way Japanese business people conduct themselves at business meetings and social gatherings. To avoid slip-ups, we recommend foreigners adopt the following simple precautions:

  • Don’t try to grab a Japanese businessperson by his or her hand to give it a hearty shake at first meeting. Many Japanese seldom shake hands and might be so uncomfortable doing so that they might avoid meeting again. It’s best to bow as Japanese do.
  • If a Japanese businessman offers his hand, don’t use too much pressure during a handshake.
  • It’s a big faux-pas to blow your nose in public. This is why, Japanese do not generally use handkerchiefs or tissues. If you need to do it, go to the bathroom. In part this habit arises because Japanese companies do not generally give paid sick-leave other than paid annual vacation. Therefore, Japanese businesspeople are very sensitive about coming into contact with anyone who might be ill.
  • It takes years to earn trust from a Japanese person. Hence, don’t try to make a small-talk about politics, religion, family, cars, children’s’ academic achievements, or sports. The Japanese side probably won’t be comfortable responding. It is very unlikely to want to talk about their personal opinions or life.
  • Don’t try to high-five a Japanese businessperson unless you know him very well. Please especially avoid this in front of his colleagues because it might embarrass him.
  • Don’t pat a Japanese man on the back or shoulder. Not even his mother or father might have ever done so.
  • Japanese businesspeople have a very strong pride in their company and expect a foreign executive to also be proud of his or her employer. Therefore, never make derogatory remarks about co-workers.
  • Don’t badmouth anyone, including competitors because a competitor might be the Japanese side’s next meeting.
  • Always smile, act pleasantly, be willing to learn, and ask a lot of questions about the Japanese side’s business vision and plans.

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