- Be Punctual
Particularly in Tokyo, this is a tricky matter. While trains are “always” on time, meetings often go overtime and many things, including suicides – particularly in the summer – can disrupt the clockwork. More important than the strictest adherence to this rule is to keep your colleagues informed – of your whereabouts and your current schedule. Sometimes, then, staying above ground – as in a taxi – and calling your colleagues with this information is better than trying to be on time, missing the train, and being late without sufficient warning.
- Bear Gifts
True, many Japanese tend to bring gifts to their counterparts when they meet, particularly after trips of any sort. But this is not so much the case on a first visit, unless the visit is something forced upon the person being visited. In business, there usually is some very fundamental for the recipient to agree to the meeting, so a present is not vital. But it is better to err on the side of generosity.
- Bow Frequently and Low
The Japanese do bow frequently, before, during, and after meetings. The protocol for the various types of bows conveys many different meanings. Bowing is an art, not a science. This being said, most business is, if not scientific, at least practical. Keep the bows cordial and sincere. Use your head – and your hand (shake) – to show sincerity in your own body language. The business is mutual, so your counterpart will understand.
- Speak Some Japanese
Nothing makes a person feel more comfortable and important than being spoken to in his or her own language. But this only holds true if the person understands what you are saying. If what you are saying is a few words you’ve picked up in a book on the taxi ride to the meeting, then keep it to yourself and be thought a fool rather than opening your mouth and removing all doubt.
- Be Subtle
It is often said that the Japanese Way of Doing Business is subtler and even inscrutable compared with the open and curt manner of Westerners. This is somewhat true, especially in that Japanese tend to give somewhat ambiguous answers to questions rather than direct ones. But this is only true on the surface, as there are few people in the West who negotiate with straightforward yes/no answers to every question. Most negotiations happen in the “depends on circumstances” realm, so there are few degrees of difference between “us” and “them.” Keep what you say simple and clear, and try to think of the value/worth on the other side and, more often than not, your Japanese colleagues will appreciate you.
- 6. Be Formal
Formality, like normality, is much overrated. While it is better to err on the conservative, the navy blue suit and striped maroon tie is pretty staid, even conveying a slightly militaristic tinge. Wear what suits best the nature of the business at hand. I wouldn’t wear a hardhat to a meeting just because the business is about building supplies, but unless the contractual negotiations involve the legal, financial, and other concerns and the corresponding executives, then it is better that everyone feels comfortable with you. But remember, this holds more true as your time in Japan is short; the longer you stay, the more you will be expected to display respect to your counterparts, even if it means packing an extra suit and dress shirts.
- Pay the Bill
If you’re going out for lunch or dinner, protocol suggests that you should pay at least half the time. Again, this is not as clear as it seems. It is relevant to consider whose invitation resulted in the meeting, who is the customer/vendor/client, and other similar details. Another important thing to remember is that the bill is rarely split, so bring extra cash, just in case. Also, in many places in Japan, plastic is not accepted.
- All Business and No Play
As the saying goes, it will make you a dull boy – or girl. Remember that the business is going to be with YOU first, then company, and finally, your product or service. If you are not interesting, fun, and a person worthy of their business, then your company and products do not stand a chance with your counterparts in Japan. What you know about the world, current events, sports, music, food, fads, trends, and everything you do that makes you special will have an impact on every meeting. These things should always be a part of every discussion, particularly at the beginning and at the end, but also as a way of bringing a global and local reality into the negotiation process. Whether in Tokyo, Rome, Sao Paulo, or San Jose, people are not so different in their desire to work and live with people with similar interests, activities, and concerns. Think and act with this in mind and you should be more comfortable with your counterparts, dramatically lubricating the negotiation process.
- Appease Your Host
Since you are a guest in their house, you should try to go out of your way to make your host happy, of course. But in business, home is not so easily defined, as procurement, even in a land outside of your core territory, is just as fundamental to your business as the primary location of operations. Whatever your reason for doing business in or with Japan, the business can only be successful if it is even handed and fair. This means, no doubt, that in some sense, you are on equal ground with your hosts. Senseless acquiescence or withholding of important opinions will not only hurt your feelings, but also your negotiating position and often sabotage the relationship itself. Being open and forthright does not necessarily show disrespect, as long as you are clear, concise, and fair. It is a very difficult task indeed, particularly when spanning across languages and cultures, but this is what makes international business a challenge that can bring wonderful fruit to its champions.
- Be Patient
Japan is a country with over a couple of million people who run competitive marathons and cross country races. While this does not directly correlate with business practice, it is an example of the sheer numbers of Japanese people who have a demonstrated interest for pursuits requiring stamina, patience, and willpower over pain. Business results do not come easily, so you will need to adapt, respond to market changes, make overwhelming commitment to gain confidence and respect from your business counterparts in Japan. This means that much of your efforts in the beginning, especially, will be expensive and time consuming. If you are not willing to exhibit this kind of commitment, get out before you get crushed. But do not forget to innovate, fight for competitive advantages that go against the status quo, and push open the confined bounds of the market, because these are the only bright beams of light shining on the stagnant economy of Japan. You can make a difference if you are willing to make the investment, commitment, and respond with the speed and good judgment that got you where you are now.
Jaraswan Jarasjaruwan or Pear is a full-time MIM student. She got a Bachelor’s of Science from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. After she graduated, she worked as an educational consultant in Thailand for 2 years. Pear chose to study international business at Portland State University because she is interested in the business field and also the reputation of the university. Currently, Pear is studying Chinese as a third language. Also, she will choose Global Marketing as her specialization in the Master of International Management program.