Don’t bring your takeout Starbucks cup to client meetings
Hi, everyone. Today I'm going to talk about Japanese business manners in Japan.
Have you ever brought a cup of coffee to client meetings?
In Japan, I would recommend that you don't. Bringing a cup of coffee to a client meeting may give them a bad impression of you and your business. Especially if the meeting is at your client's office. ( A casual meeting in a cafe is ok though.)
Let’s check out what’s on the list of etiquette in Japanese business culture.
1. Go to meetings 5 minutes early.
That might sound weird for some people who live in the places where being a little delay is ok for your client. While in Japan, however, please make sure that you are not even a minute late. Being late will be a mark against you even before the meeting starts.
Personally, I would feel that “oh this person in charge of our company doesn’t care about taking my time. So being late is fine for him/her.”
It is best to arrive at 5 minutes before a meeting starts. Arriving 10 minutes before also doesn't leave a good impression since your client would have to rush to start the meeting earlier than scheduled.
In these cases, some of your clients may have to call their boss and tell them to come earlier while apologizing to them for make them hurry.
Let’s avoid the situations that make your clients feel uncomfortable.
2. Always bring your business cards.
Greetings and exchanging business cards when first meeting is really important in Japan. While we don’t shake hands or any physical contact.
”Meishi (名刺)“ - business card in Japanese, it is not just a card, however, it’s more like a representation myself.
We don’t exchange information on LinkedIn as some do in the West.
When you exchange your business cards with a Japanese client,
・hold both sides of your business card with your both hands and introduce your company name and yourself while being sure to look at your client and maintain a friendly smile.
・Exchange your business card “with both hands”, after your client has showed and
explained his/her company name and themselves.
Please do not put the client's business card into your card case soon after you've exchanged cards.
You have to keep the business card which you received from your client, “on your business card case“ during the meeting.
3. Please do not have any physical contact with your client during the first meeting.
Please keep a distance between where you stand and sit in relation to your client. Japanese clients would feel more comfortable when there is some space between them and yourself.
In Japan, as you know, we don’t hug or shake a hands that often. Of course this holds true in business relationship as well as in general.
You might see the people who hug you or shake your hand “because they might think it’s better in your culture”. but it’s not common in Japanese culture.
Some of you might disagree with this idea because many youths like hugging each other you at colleges ”as a friend”. Please remember that this could be because they are trying to show their friendship and are also trying to be more internationalized but it doesn’t mean that is common in Japan.
Especially between men and women at offices, in general we don’t hug or touch each other. Some people might but it really depends. Also some people really don’t like touching others.
please remember that it's not because a Japanese person doesn't like you, it's just something that isn't done generally. :)
4. Becoming a Master of Bowing.
Bowing is a sign that a person is Japanese without checking his/her passport.
And the meaning of a bow depends on the situation. You can show a variety of expressions through bowing.
・Welcoming - ”Irasshai-mase” welcoming your guests at hotels or restaurants.
・Showing Appreciation - “Arigatou gozaimasu” Expressing thanks to
・Showing “no vicious expression” - showing your neck implies you are not aggressive to your guests. It’s said that us from when people had swords as samurai in Japan. The action has become a sign of politeness over time.
・Agree - As a sign that you are agreeing to do whatever your boss/guest has asked.
・Apologies - “Sorry”
・Rejection - “Moushiwakegozaimasen” literaly “sorry“ but implying “No” to your guest.
When you can see your client bow to you, it’s not a sign they are begging to you for something but they are showing their own feelings and intention. Also you can use bowing to show your gratitude.
5. Bring physical documents with a demo video.
You might be surprised at how many papers are needed for one meeting in Japan.
Please do not shout “That’s stupid” out loud, rather say it in your mind.
It’s not simply stupid, but it’s a part of business customs that Japanese use “Inkan - stamp” instead of signatures to approve documents and sign them.
If you can bring the physical documents which can explain your product details clearly, It is more better than explaining these things only through your presentation and demo video on a computer. It will take more time to prepare physical documents but it will also make things smoother. Your client will be able to take the documents straight to their superior so they can make the process flow better.
And this is my personal advice though, please make sure that delivery your service on time.
Additionally, this is my own personal opinion but make sure that if you send things, the delivery service is on time.
When you're stuck waiting on something from your client before moving on or getting other things approved, please ask your client “which way is easier for them and why”. It will bring about good conversation between you and them.
Please do not try to pressure them directly. There is a reason for this way of doing things, and you may be able to learn something new.
- What is a “unique“ custom in Japan?
Hope you learned something!