Tips for business travel in Japan

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Japan boasts the second largest economy and is one of the most important international business partners to many established corporations across the world. Considering Japan is a powerhouse in these modern times, it is only natural that so many people work to form partnerships and build a network of Japanese colleagues.

Doing business in Japan also means being aware of their methods. Conforming to the often oddity that is Japanese culture can be daunting at the best of times, let alone during a business meeting. The traditions and cultural etiquette that is upheld by business professionals in Japan is enough to make Westerners shake in the sneakers (or hopefully in this case: loafers). While there are many rules to follow, it’s more than likely that your hosts will forgive your faux pas, if you follow these simple tips.

Exchange Business Cards at the Beginning of a Meeting

Whether you are travelling to Japan for a three-day conference or a face-to-face meeting, business cards are an extremely important part of any business transaction. They love their business cards, and you’ll likely need at least 100. A business card shows your respect for the person you are meeting and a strong desire to do business with their company or colleagues. Most meetings start with the exchanging of cards and that in itself is an art. You will need to bow slightly when presenting your card with both hands to your counterpart. When accepting a card, don’t cave into old habits where you would likely place it in your wallet, you must take the time to read it. Tip: Make sure your cards read in both Japanese and English to show you took the time to consider language barriers.

Dress Appropriately

Over the last ten years, casual business attire has become the norm. Even as I write this, I’m wearing a floaty dress and sandals in my office. This kind of apparel is still uncommon in the Japanese business world therefore you should dress to meet their standards.

Avoid Abrasive Language or Idiomatic Expressions

While abrasive language or idioms should just be avoided in any kind of professional setting, it is more important than ever during a Japanese meeting. For them, it’s all about building trust, and usually that is determined by a person’s character. If you present yourself as a humble, sincere and compromising individual, you will build a better rapport than if you were to be openly confrontational or pushy. The Japanese dislike saying no or being put on the spot in order to save face, and while any dealings might be drawn out and your level of patience is tested, the concluding results will be beneficial to your business.

Punctuality is Important

Whether it be for social or business reasons, arriving on time is a general rule of thumb for everyone. If you are late for a meeting with your Japanese contact and you haven’t called first to give notice of your punctual mishap, they may believe that you don’t regard them as important.

Don’t Bring Along Partners and Spouses

In western culture, you are often seen as a respectable person by bringing along your family to company dinners or important events. In Japanese culture, it’s inappropriate to take your friends, spouses or children to meetings or dinners.
This is by no means an extensive FCm Travel Solutions has some great tips on their blog for overseas business travel, you can check them out at

Sarah Pinkerton

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