Understanding Japanese Work Culture

Whether you work in events management, finance, IT, or the automotive industry, knowing all you can about Japanese work culture can significantly help your success when meeting with a potential new business partner from Japan.

Japan is an exciting market where you can find huge audiences for your product or service, but to truly succeed you need to build strong, lasting business relationships. The only way to do this is by learning about Japanese work culture and effective global communication. Read on for a few pointers on understanding Japanese work culture.

Why Japan?
A survey by JTB revealed that almost half of US travelers interested in visiting Japan chose to experience Japanese culture as the number one reason for their visit. Visitor numbers are through the roof with more international visitors than ever before choosing our country for a vacation or business trip. Events management is also booming, and companies like JTB Communication Design (JCD) are finding novel ways to ensure all visitors experience the cultural immersion they’re looking for.

JCD has years of experience in business and insight into how international visitors find Japanese work culture. Fortunately for you, we’ve written a guide to understand how Japan does business that you can download at the end of this article. Before you head there, let’s take a look at the ways Japanese work culture can add value to your event and how we can help.

Communicating in Japan
No Japanese company expects visitors or business partners to understand the intricacies of its business culture. Providing you’re polite, no Japanese colleague will be shocked or offended if you’re no expert in Japanese tradition. However, it’s good practice to work with local companies who can help negotiate cultural differences you may encounter. One of JCD’s many roles is to create a bridge between your company and the Japanese company you’re working with. As experts in global communication, JCD offers a bilingual service that ensures a strong connection between both parties. The potential for misunderstanding is always present when language is a barrier; JCD makes sure communication is always clear, paving the way for a successful business relationship.

Nemawashi is the Japanese word for the process of gathering information and feedback on a proposed change. This is good practice whatever business you’re in, but in Japan nemawashi is not optional, it’s an ingrained part of the work culture. JCD’s motivation meetings are a great way to encourage creative collaboration between your colleagues and introduce nemawashi into your own work environment.

Building business relationships in Japan
Connecting with potential new business partners in Japan isn’t the same as building long-lasting relationships; they need to be cultivated. Be polite, make an effort to understand and respect customs, be sociable, and be yourself to maintain a long-lasting business relationship.

We’re sure you have the politeness down but what about understanding customs? Things that seem like small details, such as meishi, the exchange of business cards, might mean a lot to others. In Japan, business cards are more significant than they are in other work cultures, something covered in more depth in JCD’s guide to Japanese work culture (link below). Handing over a business card establishes your intention to begin a relationship with the receiver. Again, the trick is to treat the custom and the card giver with respect.

The same applies to greetings. Those who are not used to bowing can find the custom awkward and strange. However, the Japanese have used bowing to communicate greetings since ancient times and while it’s not expected for international visitors to adopt the custom, making the extra effort will certainly be appreciated.

Work culture vs social life
What does it mean to “be sociable”? In Japan, business doesn’t end at five o’ clock and it’s very common for Japanese workers to socialize out of hours. If you want to do well, it’s important to embrace this and accept any invitations that come your way. Socializing is a great way to see more of Japan’s inimitable nightlife, be yourself and enjoy the company of Japanese co-workers outside the office.

From drinks to dining out, taking part in social gatherings is such a huge part of work culture in Japan, so learning a little about Japanese food and drink can go a long way. Your dinner host will not be offended if there are any Japanese dishes you don’t enjoy or can’t eat due to diet restrictions. Behave as you would in any other similar situation, decline food if you want to but be polite and gracious at all times. It’s worth noting that many Japanese restaurants ask you to remove your shoes before entering so always ensure you’re wearing clean socks that are in good condition!

JCD’s guide to Japanese business culture covers everything you need to know about global communication and Japanese work culture, including all things sock-related so download today find out more!

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