Japanese business communication
With one of the largest economies in the world, Japan has seen an explosion in the increase of foreign business investment since WWII. Doing business in Japan offers innumerable benefits for international organisations, however there are a number of key cultural challenges that create friction and misunderstanding as well as sizable direct and indirect costs to the organisation if overlooked.
Cross cultural awareness training programmes such as Doing Business in Japan increase organisations’ awareness of the cultural challenges and ensure that those involved are fully equipped with strategies for benefiting from these differences. The following are six of the key cultural concepts international organisations can sometimes find challenging when setting up or doing business in Japan.
Rules and Etiquette – Japan’s low tolerance of uncertainty has created a society which adheres closely to rules and regulations. Evidence of this is visible in low crime rates, trains that you could set your watch by and high levels of conformity in behaviour. Etiquette penetrates every aspect of society and is evident even in ordinary circumstances. Aspects of etiquette include an extensive vocabulary and grammar for polite conversation, codified practices for gift giving and receiving and principles for bowing and exchanging name cards.
Hierarchy – A strong hierarchical system still exists in Japan with respect, responsibility and authority being rewarded based on age, status and experience. When communicating with Japanese, it is wise to pay attention to the protection of “kao” or “face.” Face is closely linked with personal pride and forms the basis of an individual’s social status and reputation. Damaging face through overt confrontation or criticism shakes the foundation of Japanese hierarchy and can be disastrous for business relationships in Japan.
Gender roles – Although women are fast gaining more visibility in the work place, the role of “salaryman” (office worker) is still male dominated. Women’s social participation is reflected and influenced by the Japanese language which diverges into a more polite and formal style of speech when utilised by women.
Harmony – As a country that values sentiments of collectivism over those of individualism, Japanese tend to place a significant emphasis on loyalty towards the group. It is still common for companies to provide life-long employment to individuals who, in return, devote long hours and often sacrifice personal gain for communal good. When doing business in Japan it is important to recognise that praising or prioritising any one individual over others is likely to be embarrassing and will not further business goals.