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The rising sun: Top tips for dealing with the Japanese market

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JapanJapan is one of the richest and most technologically advanced countries in the world, with a well educated workforce. It's an economy which offers a wealth of business opportunities. Cathy Wellings gives her top tips on dealing with the Japanese market.







Photo of Cathy Wellings"Personal space is highly valued in Japan and gestures and facial expressions tend to be modest."

Made up of over 3,000 islands, Japan has some of the most crowded urban areas in the world since most people live on only a few of the islands. It is not surprising then that personal space is highly valued in Japan and gestures and facial expressions tend to be modest.

As an island country, Japan's population has remained extremely homogenous and you will find a strong sense of group identity when visiting Japan. The distinction between private and public life is blurred and team work and 'fitting in' are much more important than individualism.

The following tips will help you ensure that you maximise your opportunities for doing business in Japan:

  • Make sure you avoid causing loss of face at all costs. Don't be confrontational or openly criticise or embarrass Japanese colleagues as they will lose 'kao' or face
  • Be aware that Japanese business culture is quite hierarchical and make sure you always greet the most senior people in the room before anyone more junior
  • Don't be afraid of silence. It causes less anxiety than in the West and is often used as a negotiating tactic
  • Be aware of your body language and try to maintain formal posture during meetings. Avoid slumping or crossing your legs
  • Make sure you take plenty of business cards with you and have your details printed in Japanese on the reverse
  • Avoid physical contact or expansive gestures and facial expressions with your Japanese colleagues. As Japan is such a crowded country most people really value their personal space
  • Address your business partners by their surname or to show more respect add 'san' after their surname. For example, Akira Kurosawa should be addressed as Mr Akira Kurosawa or Kurosawa San
  • Do offer your Japanese colleagues a small gift. Your gift should be well wrapped but modest and not too personal

  • Cathy Wellings is the culture and communication manager
    at Communicaid. She oversees the design and delivery of more than 500 programmes in over 30 countries every year. She has lived and worked in France and Spain as well as the UK, training professionals in culture and communication skills.

    For more information on Communicaid, visit the company's website

    Read last months feature Some like it hot: Top tips for smooth working in India

    We are running a country by country business etiquette guide, with the Middle East next on the list. If there is a country that you would like us to look at, please let me know: email [email protected]

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