Etiquette in Japan

Japan is an nation of islands and home to over 126 million people, most of whom live in or near major metropolitan areas.

Almost all Japanese nationals speak Japanese, although there are some Ryukyuan and Ainu speakers remaining in Okinawa and Hokkaido, respectively. English is taught in most public and private schools, however skill levels vary widely.

Japan’s government is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy, with a sitting Emperor and elected Prime Minister.

Japanese people enjoy full religious freedom, although upwards of 90% or more subscribe to Buddhism or Shinto beliefs. Fewer than 1% of Japanese nationals are Christian and there are small populations of many other religions represented.

The currency in Japan is the Yen, noted by ¥ or 円.

Business Negotiation Etiquette

When conducting business in Japan, understanding basic cultural values and language will go a long way in your negotiations. Some things to keep in mind:

  • If a Japanese person responds with “I’ll consider it” or “Maybe”, the answer may actually mean no. Japanese people are traditionally indirect, especially when dealing with the negative or extremely positive. You can also expect that you may not get a full or clear explanation of what is expected of you.
  • Use of the words “I’m sorry” is frequent in conversation, as a way of being polite. You may try to incorporate this into your own words.
  • Japanese society is far less litigious than American or Western societies. If you do need the services of a lawyer, choose a Japanese lawyer and be prepared for negotiations to be more cooperative than that of a American legal negotiation.
  • In Japan, age equates to rank, so be sure to show the greatest amount of respect to the oldest members of the group.
  • When speaking in English, speak slowly, use pauses and avoid colloquialisms and slang. While most Japanese people learn English in school, the focus is often on reading and writing, as opposed to conversation.
  • Expect a generous amount of business entertaining. This could range from a post meeting trip to a bar or restaurant, to tickets to a Sumo match, to a visit to a hostess bar or karaoke bar. Expect that your host will not only treat, but will also order for you. It is best to be enthusiastic and adventurous when approaching what may be unusual foods at business meals.