Last summer, Japan and the European Union signed a historic free trade agreement, regarding food products, cars and long lasting development products, among other things. There is a new ambassador in Bucharest and we do no longer need a visa for the short term trips to Tokyo or Osaka. Most certainly, Japan is a country full of opportunities and I have started by sorting out the famous problem of Japanese business etiquette. Here are a few recommendations I’ve verified from several sources:
- Punctuality is a must not only in respect of the start time, but also the end time. Be highly ceremonial, remembering that not only handshakes, but even tapping on the shoulder or any kind of physical touching are not desirable. Jokes also. First names are used only at the express invitation of the interlocutor, in a long lasting relationship. The well-known bow should be avoided, unless well practiced in advance.
- Business cards are strictly necessary. Order some in Japanese and here is why: they are produced and studied carefully at the beginning of the meeting and all this even bears the name of a ritual, meishi. You are supposed to also read carefully the card received.
- “No” is not “no”, as the Japanese almost avoid to utter it. It is suggested by a whole series of euphemistic strategies, such as laterally shaking of the head, changing the topic of discussion or silence altogether. You should avoid saying “maybe” or “we will consider this”, as in the Western culture this means rather “yes”, whereas in Japan it is the opposite.
- Be careful with “Sayonara”. We have all heard it said in Japanese animes and we may feel tempted to use it, but it may mean “farewell”, rather than “see you soon”. At the end of a meeting regarding an ongoing negotiation, it may indicate that you are not willing to continue the talks.
- A translator is absolutely necessary, unless you speak fluent Japanese. Even if they do speak good English, more traditional businessmen will avoid using it directly.
- Decisions are not made in a topic specific meeting. You may be impressed by the extended participation of the Japanese party, but you shouldn’t wonder how such an extended delegation will make a decision in a meeting, because they won’t. To the Japanese, the purpose of the meeting is to gather information. The decision is made subsequently, further to an elaborated process and it will be communicated to you afterwards.
If you are lucky enough to have a less ceremonial business partner, enjoy it! Bear in mind, however, that their effort to adopt the western practices is, after all, also a proof of extreme traditional politeness. Anyhow, it is recommended that you should avoid risks, especially during first meetings.