Exporting a business to the far east requires in depth understanding of local customs alongside cultural awareness of the region. In Japan, there are procedures for commercial trade that every aspiring businessman must follow:
Meeting a business team for the first time will seem like a very structured process. Dressing conservatively for the occasion in your best dark coloured suit shows a level of professionalism and intent to conduct talks efficiently. For women, a similar attire with flat shoes are preferable to less formal heels. Should the location of the meeting require the removal of shoes, ensure that dark socks and feet are hygienically presentable. It is also considered bad form to blow your nose in front of others, therefore a trip to the restroom would be best for these matters prior to seeing clients.
When heading towards the conference room, being in good time is vital. Arriving early by ten minutes shows good organisation and eagerness for punctuality. Should there be any delay on route, calling ahead shows professional mannerisms. Meeting the delegation should not involve a western hand shake but a small bow to ensure cultural awareness. Touching anywhere on the body such as the shoulder or elbow is not appropriate. Some may offer an initial meeting gift to their hosts however this may not be the best idea since some flowers or particular wrapping paper may have colours that are considered unfitting for the circumstances. There is an article entitled ‘Colour guide to Japan’ which will explain more.
Sitting down to conduct trade is not as straightforward as some might seem. In Japanese business, the head of each company sits at the opposite end of the table. They are normally the oldest people in the room, denoting the experience and wisdom of their position. When entering into conversation, this will commence with the senior managers followed by others wishing to contribute.
Speaking to the room, the address should be formal and soft in nature. Wild exclamations and general loudness are not appropriate business etiquette whilst hand gestures used excessively are frowned upon. Silence, whilst many may think is a bad aspect of a sales pitch is actually a very good trait. Maintaining a quiet, disciplined line where you speak and respond when requested is a strong sign of a business professional. Sales are conducted in a passive, persuasive tone without any need for hard selling techniques. A consistent approach and team work mentality are crucial in negotiating business in Japan. Individual performers should not be credited when the team behind them are equally responsible for good working practice.
A Working Lunch
Going to dinner with a client is still a very formal part of the meeting. It is expected that queries about their company be asked but private life and non-work questions should be avoided completely. Chopsticks should always be returned to their original form as laid out before the meal and the seat should be repositioned to how it was seen on arrival. If the client passes over a business card on departure, be prepared to place this solemnly as a mark of respect inside a wallet or case. Having a handful of reciprocal details to hand over to a client is vital as a professional business person in Japan will always carry something to handover to potential trade partners. These cards should never be folded or written on as they are seen as a token of the company in which business is being created. To wilfully manipulate it or scrawl on the back would be seen as a mark of disrespect.
Navigating through social convention to make a perfect impression is complex, however a brief introduction to local customs will ensure that potential clients appreciate any effort to better understand their ways. Business is conducted with a sense of mutual respect and when time is taken to understand all formalities, visitors will reap the benefits.