So you' re headed to Japan on a business trip. Whether your mission is to sell a big account or to do a little consulting work there are a few common mistakes to avoid.
1. Business Cards (Meishi)
Bring plenty of proper business cards with you on any trip to Japan. Ideally your cards will have a Japanese and English side. This isn't difficult to do and really impresses the locals. Read up on Japanese meishi manners. If there's one thing that Japanese professionals take seriously it's business cards. If you don't treat business cards with the respect they deserve you'll look bad.
2. The Dreaded Bow Handshake
In 2009, President Obama met the Emperor of Japan at the Imperial Palace. Obama bowed and shook hands at the same time. This led to an embarrassing situation for the White House. The bow handshake is also a dilemma for business travelers. When in Japan you should introduce yourself with a 45o bow and a meishi. However, the people you're meeting may initiate a handshake. When both happen at the same time the result is often confusion and embarrassment.
3. Dress Well
Japanese business people dress well. Japanese companies aren't likely to have casual Fridays. In the Tokyo sea of black suits you're likely to look slack in a golf shirt.
4. Speak Slowly Stupid
If your hosts are nice enough to speak English to you — thank them by speaking slowly. It also helps to:
- use a great deal of body language
- avoid slang and idioms
- use a simple vocabulary
- present information in a visual way
Native English speakers who talk at full speed in a natural way (including slang etc...) tend to lose everyone in the room.
5. Small Gestures Count
If you don't speak Japanese it's unlikely you'll learn before your trip. At a minimum it's important to learn a few simple phrases such as good morning. Speaking a few words of Japanese shows that you respect the culture and are putting in an effort.
6. Read the Writing on the Wall
Japanese culture is a conflict avoiding culture. Western people who have been working in Japan long enough may develop the same habits and disposition. Avoid conflict. This includes directly confronting or disagreeing with someone. If someone is wrong about something let them know in an indirect way (that allows them to save face). Be cognizant of the fact that people in Japan will send you messages in an indirect fashion. Foreign business people who complain that Japanese counterparts say yes when they mean no aren't reading the writing on the wall.
Yes, let's discuss the contract again sometime = no (or a weak maybe)
Yes, I like your idea but how about another approach ... = you're wrong
7. Nightlife Dangers
Tokyo is an intriguing place. Remember that hangovers adversely affect business performance. Save it for your vacation.