The world's smallest multinational: Business in Japan

Doing business in Japan is like a lesson in fine art. While the pace of Tokyo can make your head spin at street level, step inside the cool calm of any highrise and the attention to time honoured traditions is as detailed as an 18th century block print.

You'll also find that being skilled in these customs is powerful currency. The Japanese are extremely polite and place significance on respect and social rank. From ceremonial rituals like the exchange of business cards, to the importance of attire and the formality of meetings, etiquette is to be observed with reverence. Here are some tips that will help you make a good first impression and build a lasting relationship with your Japanese partners.

1.      Exchanging business cards

The exchange of business cards during a meeting is a ceremony in itself. Always present your business card to the most senior member at the meeting first. Always bow when presenting or receiving a business card and handle with both hands. Always treat the business card with respect, take the time to read it carefully, never write on it or play with it. A symbol of your name and your credibility, business cards are very important in Japanese business culture.

2.      What to wear

Business attire must be formal. Wear a dark suit with a white shirt and subdued tie, but steer clear of a black suit and tie worn with a white shirt, as this is traditional Japanese funeral attire. A red tie is traditionally the colour of someone heroic. The combination of red and white (tie and shirt) is also a symbol for auspicious or happy occasions (business meetings). Men in power - like the Presidents of the United States - are often seen sporting dark power suits with white shirts and a red tie.

3.      Business meetings

Punctuality is a must in Japan. Arrive 10 minutes early and plan a detailed agenda. Wait to be seated in the meeting room, as it is customary for the most important or senior associate to sit the furthest away from the door. Business meetings are about relationship building and decisions are rarely made on the spot. Meetings may feel a bit slow and key details are often discussed in a round-about way - but don't mistake indirectness as non-commitment. Be patient, it will pay off. Silence is also a virtue, if things go quiet during a meeting do not panic, reflection is taking place.

4.     Language

Another important aspect to consider is language. If you don't speak Japanese, your meetings will be done through an interpreter.  Documents, presentations and even business cards need to be translated. It's important to find yourself a trusted partner on the ground in Japan to help you with these services and anticipate your needs if you visit regularly. This is where the services of a virtual office provider like Servcorp can be invaluable.

5.    The Experience

The natural partner to a Tokyo business trip is a stay in a capsule hotel. You might choose a regular city hotel or even the more traditional Ryokan for the majority of your stay, but if you have a sense of adventure it's an experience not to be missed. Once inside, the capsules are larger than they appear, but still definitely not for the claustrophobic. Or those particularly sensitive to hospital style robes, communal showers and smoking. Sometimes all at once!

They might seem like small things, but the few pointers above can make all the difference to a trip to Japan for business. Take some time to consider them before you go and you'll be glad you did your homework.

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