Navigating Japan’s Unique Business Culture: Tips for Success

Share This Post

Japan has a unique and fascinating business culture that is full of strict codes of conduct, but also rich in opportunities. Japan is a market that requires a different approach to doing business, but once you understand the key rules, you will find it easier to navigate and succeed. In this article, we will guide you through the most important aspects of doing business in Japan, so that you can establish strong relationships, make a lasting impression, and ultimately achieve success.

Time is King

In Japan, time is a precious commodity, and punctuality is a top priority. You may have heard about the 2017 incident when the management of the Tsukuba Express line apologised after one of its trains departed 20 seconds early. This serves as a powerful reminder that arriving on time for meetings and appointments is a sign of professionalism and respect, and it is critical to prioritise time when doing business in Japan.

In Japan, not only is punctuality important but prompt payment and delivery are also crucial in business dealings. It is crucial to negotiate delivery dates in advance, as any delay can result in a loss of trust and professionalism. Furthermore, it is essential to be easily accessible and responsive to clients’ requests, as the Japanese place high importance on timely communication and may have concerns if they do not receive a prompt reply.

The Art of Bowing (Ojigi)

Bowing, or ojigi, is an integral part of Japanese culture and business. The depth, duration, and frequency of bows differ based on the seniority and status of the person. A bow by a lower-status person is deeper and longer compared to one by a superior. It is crucial to understand the subtleties of bowing and to use it appropriately when communicating with business partners and clients.

Exchange Of Business Cards (Meishi Koukan)

Exchanging business cards, or Meishi Koukan, is an essential part of doing business in Japan. Make sure to bring some high-quality business cards with you that accurately reflect your professional identity. When exchanging cards, hold them with both hands, read the card, and leave it on the table during the conversation or place it in a cardholder if you are standing. When you put away the cardholder, make sure to always place it above your belt in your jacket instead of your trousers’ pocket.


The Power of Long-Term Relationships

Don’t expect to sign your first contract on your first trip to Japan. The country places high value on long-term relationships over one-off transactions. Building trust and strong connections with your business partners and clients is crucial for success in this market, even if it takes time and many restaurant dinners to develop. Japanese businesses tend to stick to the same partner once they have established a relationship, so it’s important to remain punctual, respectful, and professional in all interactions. Open communication and a willingness to listen to and understand your partner’s and clients’ perspectives can also help build strong relationships.


Consensus Culture

In Japan, consensus culture is a prevalent practice in business interactions. Meetings to discuss and gather opinions and reach a final decision are common, and this approach is known as Nemawashi. It’s essential to understand that these meetings may take longer than in other countries, as the process of reaching a consensus involves carefully considering all perspectives and opinions. Don’t be surprised if you receive multiple emails seeking further information or clarification before a meeting is scheduled, and prices may also be discussed even before the first meeting. Despite the time and patience required, this approach to decision-making is an integral part of Japanese business culture and is crucial to building strong relationships and ensuring project success. By embracing the consensus culture, you can demonstrate your respect for Japanese business practices and lay the foundation for productive and long-lasting business partnerships.


Respect for Age and Status

Age and status are highly respected in Japan, and hierarchy plays a significant role in the business world. When doing business in Japan, it is important to be aware of the status of your business partners and clients and to address them accordingly. Using appropriate titles and following proper protocols can help to demonstrate respect and professionalism.


Privacy Matters

Privacy is highly valued in Japan, and direct approaches through social media may be viewed with suspicion. It’s crucial to be mindful of privacy and to respect boundaries. The best way to make contact is through formal channels, such as business introductions or referrals.


Protocol for Business Dinners

In Japan, dining together is an important aspect of establishing and maintaining business relationships. Business dinners offer a space to not only discuss work-related matters but also to get to know each other on a personal level. To ensure that the experience goes smoothly, it is crucial to understand and observe certain customs during a business dinner in Japan. One such custom is the proper use of chopsticks. It is considered impolite to insert chopsticks into food and instead, they should be placed alongside the plate when not in use. Another custom is to be mindful of the level of drink in your glass. If your glass is empty, it is customary for your business partner to refill it. To avoid constant refilling, it is best to keep your cup partially full. Finally, refilling your business partner’s glass when it is empty is a sign of respect and a key component of the dining experience in Japan.



In the Western world, gift-giving is regarded as unethical or corrupt. In contrast, it is a common practice in Japanese business circles to exchange gifts as a way to cultivate relationships and express good intentions. When receiving a gift, it’s important to demonstrate etiquette by not opening it in the presence of the giver. Instead, the gift should be received graciously and opened at a later, more private time. If you’re giving a gift, it’s advisable to put thought into the selection and make sure it is meaningful and well-presented in its packaging. By following these customs, one can demonstrate respect and foster positive business relationships in Japan.


Business Attire

In Japan, one’s appearance plays a crucial role in business settings. For this reason, it is essential to be dressed appropriately and professionally for any business-related event or meeting. For men, the standard attire consists of a suit and a tie, while women are expected to dress professionally and in a conservative manner. The attention to detail in one’s appearance is seen as a reflection of their attention to detail in business matters and is therefore highly valued in the Japanese business culture.


Modesty over Hard-Sell

Modesty is highly valued in Japanese culture and a hard-sell approach is often seen as pushy and disrespectful. In Japan, building trust and relationships through subtlety and humility is preferred over aggressive sales tactics. Japanese consumers tend to make decisions based on relationships and trust, so being overly boastful about your products or services can damage your credibility. To be successful in Japan, it’s important to adopt a modest and collaborative approach, listen to the needs of your clients, and demonstrate your expertise and knowledge through your actions rather than just words. By taking a modest approach, you show respect for Japanese culture and are more likely to build lasting business relationships and gain the trust of your clients.


Respectful addressing

One important aspect of Japanese etiquette is the use of respectful addressing, which involves using the last name of the individual, followed by the honorific “san.” This practice is considered a sign of respect and professionalism and it is imperative to follow this protocol when interacting with business partners, clients, and colleagues. However, it is important to note that some Japanese individuals who have had experience working with international counterparts may be more accustomed to using first names followed by “san.” Despite this, it is generally recommended to follow the standard convention of using last names in order to show respect for Japanese cultural norms. In doing so, you can build positive and productive relationships with your Japanese business partners and clients.


The Importance of Planning & Risk Aversion

In Japan, planning is considered a critical component of business success. Japanese businesses place great emphasis on long-term planning and strategy, which helps them to make well-informed decisions, allocate resources effectively, and stay ahead of the competition. Companies in Japan also prioritise regular performance assessments, using the results of these evaluations to inform and improve their plans. This focus on planning allows Japanese businesses to stay agile and responsive to changing market conditions, while also ensuring that their resources are utilised in the most efficient and effective manner. Additionally, thorough planning helps to mitigate risk and reduce the impact of unexpected events, leading to greater stability and security for the business. In short, in Japan, the importance of planning in business cannot be overstated, as it forms the foundation for success and sustainable growth.


Localisation and interpretation

When doing business in Japan, it’s important to keep in mind that English proficiency may not be widespread, especially among the older generation. This highlights the importance of localising all marketing documents into Japanese, taking into account not just translation but also cultural and semantic aspects. There may be certain sentences, colours, and layouts that are deemed inappropriate and need to be avoided, so it’s best to work with experts who are familiar with Japanese culture and semiotics.

Before meetings, it’s common to prepare a company profile to share with your Japanese business partners. This allows them to get a better understanding of your business and helps to build trust and credibility. When communicating with your Japanese counterparts, it’s recommended to avoid relying on translation tools and instead participate in meetings with interpreters who are familiar with both cultures and can help you understand the business codes. Interpreters who understand the nuances and cultural differences can help to facilitate communication and ensure that your message is being conveyed accurately.

In conclusion, doing business in Japan is both exciting and challenging, as it requires a deeper understanding of its unique and fascinating business culture. From valuing punctuality, and bowing etiquette, to exchanging business cards, Japan has a strict set of codes to follow to make a lasting impression and achieve success. The power of long-term relationships, consensus culture, respect for age and status, privacy, and protocol for business dinners and gifting practices are all crucial aspects to consider when navigating the Japanese business world.

We understand that it can be overwhelming, but don’t let that hold you back from unlocking the potential of the Japanese market. Our team at operviser is here to guide and support you through your journey, so you can make the most of your business opportunities in Japan. So why wait? Let’s connect and take the first step towards your international growth today!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore

french riviera, arch, arched-85210.jpg

2023 Food and Beverage Trends in France

Share This Post France’s culinary world is distinguished by its ongoing engagement with specific trends and commitment to culinary innovation. The French food and beverage

Book your free 30-min consultation now