Japan’s cultural conundrums

Doing business in Japan for the first time takes preparation. Here are five things you need to know before you start.
Published —
22.07.17
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CULTURAL differences can make dealing with Japanese companies a daunting prospect.

But Daisaku Yukita, deputy director general of the Japan External Trade Organisation, urges British companies not to be afraid of doing business in Japan.

“People ask me if they should bring souvenirs to present or how to use chopsticks but that’s not important,” he says. “If you can do it, then it’s appreciated but you don’t have to.”

He says Westerners who do make inroads in his country appreciate the lifestyle. Monocle magazine ranked Tokyo the world’s most liveable city last year, with Fukuoka seventh and Kyoto ninth, Yukita points out.

He says Westerners who do make inroads in his country appreciate the lifestyle.

Generic image of a Japanese city at night
READ: Our market profile of Japan

Monocle magazine ranked Tokyo the world’s most liveable city last year, with Fukuoka seventh and Kyoto ninth, Yukita points out.

“At midnight you can walk alone, you don’t need to worry about danger. It’s a very safe place. You might have perceptions about Japan being an expensive country but it’s no longer true.”

He says annual salaries low compared with other OECD countries, although grabbing a coffee fix from Starbucks can be expensive.

As ever, preparation is key. Here, we set out five of Yukita’s handy facts about trading in Japan:

Sometimes ‘yes’ means ‘no’

When you talk with Japanese people, they just keep nodding and saying “hai”. It doesn’t always mean “yes”; sometimes it means “no”. It means they understand what you’re talking about but not necessarily that they agree with you.

A country office brings respect

If you talk to Japanese company they may ask you “do you have an office in Japan”, otherwise they might not trust you. It shows your credibility. Hire someone with Japanese experience; a native or someone who has lived there. It’s quite difficult to find bilingual engineers or other employees.

Mind your language

Say “san” after someone’s name. It will make a good impression. You would do that in email as well. If you just say someone’s name, it’s considered very rude, although we do understand it’s different cultures.

Be punctual
Everything is very clean and very punctual. If a train is delayed one minute, there will be an apology from staff.

Don’t rely on plastic

You may be surprised that in Japan, credit cards are not popular. If you go to McDonald’s they won’t accept credit cards. We think cash is the safe, credible way of doing things.

Daisaku Yukita was speaking at a networking event organised by Quay Business Forum at Birkenhead’s Maritime Knowledge Hub.

For more advice on doing business in Japan, read the Export to Japan organisation’s guide to etiquette.

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