bowing

Business Travel to Japan

Business travel to Japan is common as Tokyo is one of the world's financial hubs.  However, there are a few things that businesspeople need to know before doing business in Japan. With the emphasis the Japanese put on manners and respect for others, what may seem like a minor social gaffe could lead to an uncomfortable situation.

One thing that I have personally noticed with visitors from abroad is the occasional misuse of the suffix -san.  I remember hearing a visitor from the US say, "Nice to meet you.  My name is Karen-san".  She didn't realize it, but she had created an awkward situation and made it very obvious that she knew next to nothing about Japanese culture.  San is a title of respect which you cannot bestow upon yourself.  It is up to the speaker to decide if you are worthy of having -san appended to your name.

Another item to take into account is the unwritten dress code.  The Japanese place great importance on appearance and men are usually expected to wear suits, and women should wear professional attire as well.  Facial hair is discouraged, but if present should be neat and well-groomed.  

The next thing one needs to know is how to greet someone.  It is customary to bow upon meeting someone.  However, for the foreign visitor it is difficult to know exactly how and when to bow.  The Japanese know that visitors don't understand this, therefore, it is okay for visitors not to bow.  However, people who try are much appreciated.  Another thing to keep in mind is that it is very offensive to introduce oneself by adding "san" to the end of one's name.  If your name is Dave, it is like saying "My name is Mr. Dave".  It is also important to be on time and to bring an appropriate gift for a first of second meeting.

Business cards, known as meishi in Japanese, are very important in Japan.  Many people have both English and Japanese on their cards.  They must be handed to the person in a professional and courteous manner with the use of both hands and the printed side facing the recipient.  They must also be received in the same way.  It is also of utmost importance to refer to them often and treat them with great respect.  Do not fold or write on a business card in front of the person.

Doing business in Japan can be enjoyable and profitable and being aware of a few social customs can go a long way toward success.