Japanese Business Protocols

1357 words | 5 page(s)

Over the past few decades, primarily as a result of rapid changes within technology, the boundaries which typically define our marketplace are slowly being eradicated. We are increasingly becoming more global in our outlook, and reach. There remain very few limitations in terms of where and when we can do business.

In consideration of this fact, it is important that companies and individuals seeking success in the international marketplace familiarize themselves with the cultural business etiquette and norms which characterize a given country. The consequences of a failure to do so portend deleterious outcomes, including, but not limited to lost jobs, lost sales and abysmal professional relationships. Mastery of these cultural norms and adherence to culture specific business etiquette, however, portends tremendous rewards in the form of success.

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For this assignment I will be examining Japanese business etiquette as applied in eight diverse areas. These areas include: business cards, business meetings, dining, drinking (alcoholic beverages), entertaining, host duties, gifts and entertaining. It is important to note that Japan is a very formal society with a strong culture, which is reflected in how they do business. Protocol and adherence to business etiquette is perhaps more important in Japan than in any other global culture.


According to the research, gift giving is an essential part of Japanese business etiquette and culture. The article advises gift-givers to bring a diverse range of gifts and further provides advice to properly negotiate and experience this Japanese norm. In Japanese culture, the emphasis is on the act of giving the gift, not the gift itself.

Gifts are to be presented and accepted with both hands. Moreover, it is proper etiquette and custom to politely refuse the gift once or twice. Finally, the article advises against giving in fours and nines as this is considered unlucky in Japanese culture. Giving in pairs is much more acceptable.


In Japan, dressing according to your status impresses the Japanese, therefore, itis advisable to dress to impress. Men are advised to wear dark suits and women, to dress conservatively, with minimal accessories. Women can wear high heels, but should take care to ensure they are not taller than their Japanese counterpart.

Casual dress is never appropriate in a business setting; therefore, business travelers should maintain a full complement of professional attire. In fact, it is arguable that conservative attire should govern all clothing choices during a business trip to Japan.

Finally, given the Japanese custom of removing one’s shoes in certain settings, it is advisable for business travelers to wear slip-on shoes which would ease this process.
Business Cards

Business cards are an integral component of Japanese business culture. Indeed, it is a part of the formal introduction process and a meeting cannot start until all business cards have been properly exchanged. It is therefore advisable that anyone seeking to do business in Japan bring an abundance of business cards (at least 100) to ensure they are keeping in line with this cultural norm.

There is also, very specific protocol for the actual exchanging of business cards. When presenting and receiving business cards in Japan, it is customary to use both hands and also to bow your head slightly. Furthermore, protocol dictates that business cards should never be put in your pocket. Rather, you should place it in a business card holder or similar professional accessory.

Finally, bilingual business cards are also the norm in Japan. Bilingual business cards are two-sided business cards with information print on either side in Japanese and English, respectively. They are specifically noted as being a minimum requirement for anyone who wants to do business in Japan.

Business Meetings

Japanese culture plays an important role in business meetings and protocol is strictly adhered to. The most important thing for a business visitor to Japan to consider is the importance of a humble and conservative demeanor. On first meeting your Japanese host, you should first bow and wait to determine if your host will offer you a handshake.

The Japanese also have strict protocol when it comes to seating arrangements during a business meeting. It is therefore, advisable to wait for seating directions; the status of each person at the meeting is determined by their status. The highest ranking person typically sits at the head of the table, with their subordinates, in descending order of rank, on either side of them.


Drinking is a critical element of Japanese culture and is perceived as a way to relax and reduce stress. In Japanese culture it is common to retreat to bar, karaoke lounges and restaurants after work. A non-Japanese business visitor is well-advised to accept any invitations to socialize with their Japanese counterparts in these settings.

Furthermore, it is proper business etiquette to refrain from consuming your drink until a toast has been made; one should never drink until the drink has been poured for them; and, it is poor etiquette to drink directly from a can or bottle-it is advisable ask for a glass instead.


Dining protocol is perhaps the most intensive of all Japanese business etiquette protocols. First, it is important to stay in line with the accepted Japanese norm of showing gratitude for a meal by joining your hands and verbally expressing such gratitude.

It is also considered poor manners to pass food around the table; instead one should place a small portion on a plate and pass it to another person. Moreover, it is unacceptable or in poor manners to eat on the run as we like to do in Western culture. Finally, no Japanese meal is complete without formally thanking the chef for a great meal.

Negotiation Styles

The Japanese values of harmony and order are reflected in how they negotiate. As a result, within Japanese companies, negotiation is accomplished from the bottom, up, with lower ranking staff managing the initial negotiation sessions. This can be juxtaposed with Western companies which typically reserve a negotiation function to higher-ranking personnel.

The Japanese value of harmony is reflected in the negotiation process in several ways. One way is illustrated by the practice of Japanese negotiators wherein they informally talk to the other negotiators prior to the official start of the formal negotiation process. Another example of the application of the value of harmony is demonstrated by how the Japanese seamlessly integrate more junior personnel in the negotiation process. As a result, however, the entire process can seem arduous, but a non-Japanese negotiator would be advised to take note of these customs.


Greetings have an understandably high importance in Japanese culture. The Japanese have a very detailed and intense code for proper greetings. The bow is perhaps the most significant aspect of a proper greeting. An appropriate bow is accomplished when you bow, holding the palms of both hands on your thigh.

There is also a pre-determined cadence to the depth and length of a bow; it is according to status and seniority. The more junior person tends to bow for longer and deeper than the more senior person.

These are but a few of the cultural protocols which govern business behavior and etiquette in Japan and are necessary for successful transactions within this culture.

  • Cross Cultural Gift Giving Etiquette. (n.d.). The Translation Agency for a complete Professional Translation Service. Retrieved November 27, 2013, from http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/cultural-services/articles/cross-cultural-gift-giving-etiquette.html
  • Japan Business Etiquette, Culture, & Manners. (n.d.). Japan. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://www.cyborlink.com/besite/japan.htm
  • Japanese Business Etiquette | Japanese Business Cards Etiquette | Japanese Document Translation | Japanese Business Customs. (n.d.). Japanese Business Resource RSS. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://www.japanesebusinessresource.com/
  • Japanese Business Resource | Japanese Business Meeting Etiquette. (n.d.). Japanese Business Resource RSS. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://www.japanesebusinessresource.com/japanese_business_etiquette/japanese-business-meeting-etiquette/
  • Japanese business etiquette. (n.d.). and doing business in Japan. Retrieved November 28, 2013, from http://www.venturejapan.com/japanese-business-etiquette.htm
  • New York Etiquette Guide. (n.d.). Top Dining Taboos in Japanese Table Etiquette. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://www.etiquetteoutreach.com/blog_new-york-etiquette-guide/bid/34674/Top-Dining-Taboos-in-Japanese-Table-Etiquette
  • http://jupapadoc.startlogic.com/compresearch/papers/JCR10-8.pdf. (n.d.). http://jupapadoc.startlogic.com/compresearch/papers/JCR10-8.pdf. Retrieved November 29, 2013

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