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Business Culture in Japan


Business culture reflects the values of a country or society.

If you imagine a tree representing a culture; underneath the ground are all the values, ethics, history and philosophy that underpin the culture.

You can’t really see them – they are invisible.

The bit above the ground, the trunk, branches and leaves, represent things like dress codes, business etiquette, negotiation rules, protocols for business correspondence, etc.

Japan's business culture is ancient and very deeply rooted. That’s why if you are doing business or working with the Japanese, you need to take the time to learn a bit about how they like to do business.

Greetings in Japanese Corporate Culture

According to Japanese business etiquette, greetings happen in two ways: a bow and/or a handshake.


For the Japanese, this is often an integral part of greeting protocol. However, the gesture can also be used to show appreciation, sympathy or apology. With foreigners, a bow may or may not be used. The rules are a little complex, so if you plan on visiting Japan do a little reading on when you should reciprocate a bow, with who and how low.



Handshakes are normal and important as a sign of trust. Seniority is important in Japanese culture, so always shake hands with people in order of rank. If you are used to shaking hands in a firm manner, then avoid doing so as this is not the way it’s done in Japan. It needs to be softened.


Business card exchange

Sometimes people exchange business cards before a handshake, sometimes after. When giving/receiving your business card you must pass it with the right hand or both hands, and the front side of the business card should ideally be in Japanese. An important point is to have your first name, last name, company name, contact information and profession on the business card.

Contact and Communication

In order to build a successful business relationship in Japan or with the Japanese, it needs to be supported by three pillars:

  1. Sincerity (the absence of pretence, fulfilling commitments, willingness to make compromise)
  2. Compatibility (shared values, focus on mutual understanding, protection of reputation and face)
  3. Trust (creating a pleasant atmosphere, patience, and long-term outlook )

Remembering a few basic Japanese business communication tips can help you navigate your way around these principles.

1. When replying to requests, avoid using any harsh language and words such as "no", "never" or “impossible”.
2. Ensure you establish lines of communication with all Japanese stakeholders – not just those you are working directly with.
3. Be prepared to answer the same questions many times or to have long and scrupulous discussions.
4. Japanese people prefer working with quiet people so avoid loud conversations or other distracting behaviour.
5. As the business culture in Japan is built on respect, do not be surprised if you are addressed by your surname, as the first name is only used with people in close relationships.

Informal meetings

After a long day in the office, the Japanese are usually eager to spend time with partners in an informal setting. Often a late negotiation will move on to dinner at a restaurant.

Informal communication has a key role in Japanese business practice. What is often left unsaid in the office, for various reasons, is often much more comfortably discussed over food and drink.

This is why it’s so important to accept all invitations you may receive.

Japanese Business Dress Code

When meeting Japanese partners, it is very important to look professional and well-groomed.

In Japan the dress code is fairly rigid:

  • For men:  classic suit, shirt and tie. Avoid the combination of a black suit, white shirt and black tie, as this is considered mourning attire in Japan.
  • For women:  jacket, blouse and skirt, classic low-heeled shoes.

Dress codes can vary in some sectors and industries so if you are going to Japan, do a little research so you make the right impression.

So, if you are doing business with or in Japan it’s worth following some or all of the above tips around communication and behaviour.

However, to do this sincerely and to gain the trust of your Japanese clients or colleagues, you must learn to understand their way of thinking and the cultural context in which they work. Our Japan Cultural Awareness Course can help you do that.

As we said at the start, the Japanese have deep-rooted principles to which they have remained faithful for a long time. To be successful in Japanese business society, you must honour and respect them.


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