Tips for Your Business Meeting with a Japanese Company

December 16, 2011
by Ai Arakawa, Media Relations Specialist, Business Wire/Tokyo
Ai Arakawa, Media Relations Specialist, Business Wire/Tokyo

Ai Arakawa

Different people have different customs, and you might think that the uniqueness of Japanese customs is outstanding or exotic.

Robin Pharo, who, after working for a Tokyo IT department, penned an article in JAPAN TODAY about the Japanese and their “entirely different” meeting style compared to their American counterparts, is awed by the seriousness and formal structure of meeting in Japan.  And it’s true – the Japanese could make the business meeting formal in a harmonious and respectful mood.  

I’d like to introduce some tips that might help you at your visits with Japanese companies on your business trips.

Meeting time

It’s important to arrive on time, or five minutes earlier than the meeting’s start time, as Japanese value punctuality. If you arrive late, call your contact person as soon as possible and announce your estimated arrival time. However, it’s another story for the meeting’s closing time. Meetings in Japan often exceed the allotted time, expanding on various topics including non-business related talks, so it’s best practice not to schedule back-to-back meetings.

Appropriate attire for business meetings

Even though this certainly depends on with whom you are meeting (CEO or ordinary employee), it’s safest to wear a suit (with tie for men). But in recent years, thanks to the government’s energy saving campaign “Cool Biz” for summer and “Warm Biz” for winter, the dress code at the business meeting has become more relaxed. This is particularly the case this year as many companies try to save electricity to avoid the power shortages that could have been caused by the great earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku region earlier this year.

Bowing and the seat you take in the meeting room

When you visit and meet your client, your contact person may bow instead of shaking hands, as Japanese people frequently bow when meeting others or thanking or apologizing to someone.

Also, your client may pay attention to where you sit down. The seat furthest away from the entrance is called “kamiza” and it is reserved for the most important person in the room. As the guest, you may be taken to this “kamiza” seat with respect. It is expected that you take the seat if it is offered to you.

Exchanging Business cards

Exchanging business cards

Japanese values the meishi (business card) exchange as the time of formal self-introduction. The person with higher title exchanges the card with the more senior person of the other company first. Then the persons with lesser titles will exchange cards. Introducing your company name and your own name with a bow, hand your card out and receive the other one with both of your hands.

Do not put the given card away in your card case or in the pocket of your jacket, keep it out on the table during the meeting. Writing something on the given card is not recommended — take good care of the card with respect as if it was an extension of him/her.

Any gifts to bring?

Offering a gift is not a strict tradition as is often thought. It would be nice timing to bring a gift if your visit occurs during either of the two gift giving seasons: One is “ochugen,” the season from the beginning to the middle of July; and another is “oseibo,” which is the season from the beginning to 25th of December. People and companies exchange gifts during these periods to express continuing gratitude.

If the meeting person doesn’t unpack your gift, don’t think he/she doesn’t like it, as there is a code of conduct and it’s rude to check what it is in front of the client.

These are just a part of Japanese business manners. Your client should understand that they are meeting with non-Japanese visitors, so do stress over following these guidelines precisely, but just enjoy the communication with your client. That’s what matters most.


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