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Japan – Meeting Etiquette

Japanese people place a high level of value on etiquette and protocol during any type of business affair, yet generally are very forgiving to foreigners as long as they show respect and make an effort to understand Japanese culture and business customs.

Here then are some key aspects of Japanese meeting etiquette:

Time: Be punctual

  • Arrive 5-10 mins early for an appointment. Arriving too early is disturbing as they may have other appointments scheduled.

Greetings: Bowing is important

  • Bowing is a common way of greeting. The lower and deeper the bow, the more respect that is shown.
  • At the very beginning of the meeting, when introducing oneself, Japanese bow with their backs straight and hands at their sides. Women often bow holding their hands clasped in front. They may also offer you a handshake instead.
  • Make sure to greet the most senior person before you greet others.

Business cards: They are treated with the utmost respect in Japan

  • Have double-sided business cards printed with the Japanese language, and keep them in a business card carrying case.
  • When exchanging business cards, thank the other person and bow slightly as you take it. Receive the card with both hands and hold it to examine the card closely with respect. Please note that you should avoid covering the company and person’s name on the card with your fingers.
  • If cards are exchanged while already seated, place the card on your case until you leave the table. Put the highest ranking person’s card on your case so that it is higher, with the junior staff’s cards beside it on the table.
  • It is unacceptable to make a note or otherwise write on someone’s business card.

Seating: Wait to be told where to sit

  • There is a protocol to be followed. If they tell you where to sit, you follow it. However basically guest(s) is/are supposed to be seated furthest from the door and host(s) is/are supposed to have a seat closer to the entrance door.

Note: In a taxi, back seats are for senior executives and the front seat is for the host or junior staff.

Clothing

  • Men should wear dark-colored (navy or black), business suits with a white shirt from around October to April and wear shirts without jackets or tie from around May to September as Japanese summers are very hot and humid. Do not wear a black suit with a white shirt and black tie because that is funeral attire. Japanese men typically have well-groomed short hairstyles. Japanese companies do not allow male employees to have beards, to shave their heads, nor have pierced ears.
  • Women should dress conservatively. Most Japanese companies do not allow female employees to wear jewelry, very short skirts or high-heeled shoes.

Business meeting

  • Silence is valued over talk.
  • Avoid writing in red ink, use black or blue.

Business meals

  • Don’t pour your own drinks. Let others pour your drinks and pour their drinks also.
  • Try to finish all the food on the plate. Leaving food on your plate can be considered wasteful and even rude.
  • Never stick your chopsticks into a bowl of rice upright as it is part of the funeral procedure in being the way to offer rice to the deceased.
  • Don’t use wet towels called “oshibori” to wipe your face or body. They are for wiping your hands.

Personal habits

  • Don’t make direct eye contact as it is often considered inappropriate.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets while speaking to someone.
  • It would be seen as rude to point at people with a finger when gesturing. Use hands instead.
  • It would be very rude to chew gum while speaking with someone.
  • It would be nice to bring some food, drinks, or small gift when visiting someone at home.
  • Don’t blow your nose in public, if you have to, face away from other people.