Business Culture

Business culture
The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture

Although it is extremely advanced in terms of technology and infrastructure, Japan has still a traditional cultural approach to business relations. Some of the distinctive characteristics of Japanese corporations are strict hierarchical structures, risk aversion and obsession for detail. The sense of belonging to a group, team work, and the pursuit of a consensus are also fundamental. Japanese society is strongly hierarchical: hierarchy is defined by age, position, company and social status, and it affects all aspects of corporate life, including how people are placed in a meeting or at a table, the order of speaking, the office floor in corporate headquarters, etc. Thus, a great importance is given to personal relations. The decision-making process does not follow a top-down model; it is based on consensus and co-operation instead. Therefore, decisions can be slow and have to be based on deep analysis and information. Senior management often have a supervisory rather than direct-action approach. As a result, policies are often originated at the middle-levels of a company before being passed upwards for ratification, which means employees will be usually implementing decisions to which they gave their direct contribution. Personal relationships are overwhelmingly important in order to create profitable business relations. In fact, many consider Japan to be the country in which personal relations most influence the business sector.

First Contact
In Japan, it is considered impolite to introduce yourself, even during a large gathering. Therefore, it is always better to be introduced by a third person. The intermediary must be chosen with care as your business contact will feel obliged to remain loyal to him. It is preferable to choose a person of the same rank as the person you want to get in touch with. If you don’t have a connection, a personal call will be more effective, whereas a letter requesting an appointment might go unanswered.

Time Management
Punctuality is important, as it is also considered a way to show respect (or disrespect) for the attendees. Therefore , it is advisable to arrive 5 minutes early for an appointment.
Appointments are required and should be made several weeks in advance. Due to the consensus nature of decision-making in Japan, it can often be difficult to determine in advance a finish time for meetings. Hence, when planning multiple meetings on the same day it is better to leave some time between each.

Greetings and Titles
Greetings in Japan are very formal and ritualised. Japanese people usually greet one another with a bow which is held for a longer or shorter time according to social rank and respect due. However, Westerners are usually greeted with a handshake (though sometimes they may choose to bow the head slightly to adapt more to the hosting country). It is important to show the due respect and deference to someone based upon their status relative to ones own. While the first name is used only for friendship relationships, in business relations Japanese use the last name followed by "san".

Gift Policy
Gift giving is an integral aspect of Japanese business life, and it is not linked to notions of bribery and corruption. Every opportunity to give a gift should be seized. Nevertheless, do not do so at the very first contact, but wait till the end of the meeting. Gifts should not be too lavish but should always be of good quality and should be wrapped. If the gift is given in public, ranks and hierarchies must be respected. Japanese are accustomed to refuse a gift several times before accepting it and to state that it is of less importance than the relation itself. The gift will only be opened in private, in order to avoid comparison with those of other people.

Dress Code
Appearance is vitally important in Japan and people are often judged on their looks and the way they are dressed. Traditionally, the Japanese dress code is formal: dark suit, white shirt, dark tie. Nevertheless, foreign businessmen may dress as they usually do in their home country. It is often the custom to take off ones shoes (at home, at a restaurant, etc.). Therefore, it is necessary to have clean, conservative style socks. For women, business dress should be restrained and formal. As the weather in the country is very varied through the seasons, it is important to be prepared for the specific climate conditions one will find in the period of the visit.

Business Cards
It is important, when doing business in Japan, to have a plentiful supply of business cards – with information printed on the back in Japanese. Cards are presented at an early stage in a formal manner. Present and receive the card with two hands, with the Japanese side up. Make sure your business card includes your title. Japanese believe that one should treat the business card they receive as they would the person, hence treat your Japanese contacts’ card with respect: examine any business card you receive very carefully, do not write on it or leave it behind. During a meeting place the cards carefully in front of you, with the senior persons’ cards on top.

Meetings Management
The initial part of meetings often consists of long, polite conversation on non business-related topics. This initial getting-to-know time is crucial to laying the foundation for a successful business relationship.  It may take several meetings for Japanese to become comfortable with their counterparts and be able to conduct business with them.
Since Japan is a group society, be prepared for a group meeting. The most senior Japanese person will be seated furthest from the door, with the rest of the people in descending rank (junior persons are seated closest to the door). English could sometimes be hard to understand completely, so it can be good to have an interpreter to make sure the messages are conveyed properly. Factual data and statistics are always well received. Always provide a package of literature about your company including articles and client testimonials.  Never refuse a request, no matter how difficult or out-of-topic it may appear, and consider that if you respond quickly and exhaustively, you prove your ability and trustworthiness. The concept of “wa”, which can be described by the English word harmony, is an integral part of the Japanese approach to meetings: individuals will not express strong opinions or go directly against a proposal.
In any case, the language and communication style have to be clear and precise. In Japanese culture, what one publicly states (“tatemae”) and what one really thinks (“hone”) are often different and can even be contradictory, hence it is recommendable to check back several times for clarification of anything that remains unclear. Sometimes Japanese can entrust you with a small amount of business to see if you are worth their trust. Humour should be avoided during serious business meetings. Patience is essential. During a meeting, the Japanese will often resort to silence, especially in case of stress or tension. Japanese body language is minimal, with people sitting in a formal upright posture. It is rare for any reaction or emotion to be visible. Staring into another person's eyes is considered disrespectful, in particular in case of elder people or senior managers.
Business meals are a crucial part of the business culture in Japan. Therefor,e when invited out for lunch or dinner, it is important to accept. The person who invites will pay the bill, and offering to pay when invited can be seen as impolite. If using chop-sticks, never point them at anybody and do not leave them sticking into your plate. It is considered polite to leave some food on your plate at the end of the meal to show that the food that was provided is enough. When taken to a traditional Japanese restaurant, it is customary to remove your shoes when entering. It is not likely to be invited to someones house, as it would show a very high level of intimacy.

Source: santander

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