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Tips for Conducting Business in Japan

Every country has its own etiquette and rules of engagement when it comes to conducting business locally, but generally, global business is conducted in the style of the U.S. and other Western countries. This is true of Japan, where customs have adjusted, however, when it comes to traditional face-to-face meetings, some differences still exist.

Below are some tips and tricks to conducting business meetings with the Japanese.

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Bowing Culture – No Handshakes

Even among its citizens, Japan is not a hugging or handshaking culture. This is especially relevant when it comes to business meetings. When greeting one another, the Japanese bow sincerely, no handshakes necessary. Westerners can feel free to offer their hands, but should not feel offended or slighted if it is ignored.

Business Cards

In meetings in Japan, casually exchanging business cards is considered extremely rude. Instead, the two people meet face to face, and each use both hands to give and receive the business card. (And bow while doing it!)

Avoid Overt Assertiveness – Be Humble

When working with the Japanese, politeness and indirectness is key. Do not seek out a definitive yes/no answer on a matter. Allow them time to go speak with their team and return to you with a response. Do not mistake silence for reluctance.

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Invite Them to Socialize

While the Japanese are extremely conservative in the office environment, it is just as customary to arrange meetings before or after in a more social location. Dinner, followed by drinks is an ideal opportunity to speak about business in a more relaxed atmosphere. It may seem counterintuitive, but business decisions are sometimes madeĀ on these occasions – and relationships improve between parties. Ā To get some bonus points: shout “Kanpai!” instead of “cheers”.

In Japan, one takes off his shoes before entering any house, his own or another’s. This is done as a show of respect to others. While not literally applicable to the office environment, understanding this courtesy is imperative to understanding the Japanese.


Japan is a country with a specific set of rituals when interacting socially and professionally. Even though global business tends to follow Western business practices, it is still important to be familiar and respectful of local customs. Keep the above points in mind, and you’ll have no problem cultivating a great business relationship with the Japanese. Kanpai!