Japanese Business Culture and The New Normal
Japan is an ancient land with spiritual customs and cultural norms you may not be used to. At the same time, it is an ultra-modern society made up of educated citizens known for their playful sense of humor. The country is also known for its distinctive business culture. With the spread of COVID-19 in the past half a year, a lot has changed, including business practices. While usually engaging in certain actions which were considered normal, a “new normal” has been the talk of the day in many countries. Japan is no different, and a “new normal” for daily life, and “new business” so to speak, have been taking shape over the last few months by business going more virtual than ever before.
This newsletter will look at Japanese business culture and guide you through some of the well-known aspects that have remained the same, and some that have changed with the rise of a new normal.
Communicating in Japanese business culture
Firstly, something that applies to both virtual and face-to-face meetings is how you conduct yourself. In the US, being assertive and enthusiastic during business meetings is a worthy trait, whereas in Japan, being reserved is a better approach. Speaking little shows you are giving whoever is speaking your full attention, and complete silence is often interpreted as an expression of wisdom and self-control. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of harmony in Japanese culture, both business and every day. In some cultures, it’s preferable to change the subject or talk a difficult situation through to reach a solution but according to Japanese etiquette, silence releases tension and brings the meeting back to a harmonious place.
Similarly, Japanese people rarely respond well to a hard-sell. Japanese business cultures make decisions by consensus, which takes time and care. Putting pressure on your colleagues to set deadlines or adopt something new will be read as confrontational. Even if you are naturally very loud and outgoing, try to remain more reserved and you may find you are better received.
Being a team player
Another way the Japanese business culture is a little different from the US is the way it approaches team-playing. Individualism is a key part of the USA’s origin and a deeply entrenched part of American culture. That’s not to say Americans don’t work well as a team, of course, they do! But in Japan, what benefits the group will always take precedence over what benefits the individual. The Japanese proverb, "A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle" encapsulates how Japanese business culture functions. Individual praise is rare and likely to embarrass the receiver. Instead, always give credit to the whole team, whether some members were more instrumental in the team’s success or not.
Online business and etiquette in Japan
In our work lives, as in our social lives, getting the etiquette right can seem like a minefield. Overseas Visitors to Japan find this particular aspect of life the trickiest to understand. With the spread of COVID-19 the world has changed, and complete online business has become the new norm for at least some time to come. While there is quite a lot of etiquette to consider while visiting an actual Japanese office, there are also some things to keep in mind during a virtual meeting.
Punctuality and Online meetings
While the following is basically general practice with online meetings anywhere in the world, the Japanese are known for their detailed and timely approach when it comes to business. With face-to-face meetings, the Japanese prefer to arrive early, showing respect to the person who invited them. While you don’t have to enter an online meeting at an earlier time, be sure to be on time. Check your connection beforehand to avoid connectivity problems and be punctual. It shows that, even if there is a large time difference between your country and Japan, you are on time and this shows respect towards one another, an element in business that should not be forgotten.
Virtual Business Cards
There is no Japanese meeting taking place for the first time without exchanging business cards. The cards are well treated and respectfully exchanged between the meeting individuals. The card is seen as a representation of oneself and remains an important aspect of the Japanese business culture. This also applies now, even though we are having a lot more, or exclusively, virtual meetings. These virtual business cards can include multiple QR codes, linking to your social platforms or business links, making it easier to access from your smartphone while having a meeting on your laptop. So before meeting with a Japanese company online, be sure to have your virtual business card ready and up to date.
If meeting Face to Face
The concept of a “new normal” which has taken the world by storm in the past months, doesn’t fully exclude face to face interactions and meetings. As time goes by hopefully face to face interaction will become the norm again, but until then Japan has also set boundaries and rules for when meeting in in person. Next to keeping a distance when socializing and taking a seat at desks out of close range, wearing masks or face shield, disinfecting your hands, and or wearing gloves where needed are also implemented into the Japanese daily business practices and events. On top of that, proper ventilation is also a must that Japanese businesses follow strictly.
The New Normal
This newsletter has given a few pointers on the current state of affairs in Japanese business practices. With the state of the world moving things more online than ever before, a lot of the business etiquette has become universal, and there are of course many other things to keep in mind while having online meetings in general, such as audiovisual fidelity, but these were some Japan-specific pointers. The most important thing to keep in mind when interacting with your Japanese business partners both online and offline is being respectful. As we proceed to adapt to the changing circumstances around the globe, make sure your online business practices are up to date.
As JCD, with all these new practices being implemented as a new normal, we don't think that even after COVID-19 completely disappears normal life and business will return to the way it was before. As for the event industry, online or virtual events will become a norm, newly discovered elements will remain and most probably become combined with the already known strengths of face to face events, creating a hybrid and ultimate kind of event experience. This way we can maximize the value to a level surpassing face to face events conducted in the past.
For more information and inquiries contact us here.