Japan Global Marketing Database


The Japanese culture is a high-context one, meaning that communication goes beyond just words. Actions, expressions, tone and body language are just as important when communicating with each other. When conducting business in Japan, one must bear in mind the do's and don't's of the Japanese culture. This, then, would help put one in good stead with the Japanese, who are very particular about relationships when choosing their business associates. Below are some pointers that would help address this issue:


The Japanese usually greet each other with a bow. Knowing how to bow as a greeting would create a good first impression when trying to foster relations with a potential business associate or customer. When bowing, one should not maintain eye contact but, instead, let his line of vision go down naturally. Men will usually have his hands by his side when bowing while women should have their hands crossed in front.

The depth of one's bow should indicate his rank with respect to the other person. The deeper the bow, the more senior the other person is. In business situations, however, people usually incline their bodies at a 15 to 45 degree angle.

The Japanese do understand foreign culture, so a bow with a foreign associate would also be followed by a handshake, usually initiated by the more senior or important party.

Business Cards

Business cards are exchanged after bowing. In Japan, business cards should be printed in Japanese on one side, and in the presenter's native language on the other. The card should be presented with both hands, with the Japanese language on top. It should also be right-side-up for the receiver.

Upon receiving a card, one should not immediately keep it away. He should make it a point to read the card and memorize it. The card should be treated with respect and not kept in the pocket or wallet.


Gifts are often exchanged in the Japanese culture for various purposes. For instance, gifts could be given to repay debts or deeds, request favors, repay gifts, or even as a means of establishing and maintaining relationships.

In the business context, gifts are given as a way of maintaining relationships. The emphasis is on the act of gift-giving instead of the gift itself. Gifts will usually be presented at the end of a visit, when the recipient is approached discreetly.

Regional gifts or company-logo gifts would be appropriate, although cakes, candy and ornaments from the giver's country of origin are appreciated as well. Care must be taken not to give gifts in groups of four and nine, as they are considered unlucky. White flowers and white wrapping should also be avoided as the color is often associated with death. Giving a gift that is too familiar may also be considered rude.

One should be conscious of the gift chosen as it shows how much the giver values the relationship with the recipient. Consideration must be made in choosing the material value of the gift, its appropriateness, wrapping, and even the place where the gift was purchased. That said, it is customary, however, to tell the recipient that the gift is tsumaranai mon, or a dull and uninteresting thing, upon presenting it. This statement would indicate that the gift is trivial compared to the relationship between the giver and the recipient.


The way a person dresses is very important in the Japanese culture. In social settings, fashionable apparels from well-established fashion boutiques are extremely popular. In business settings, business attire are the norm. More formal attire may be required at times, though. In the workplace, ladies usually wear full or long skirts instead of pants. Accessories should also be minimised.

Generally speaking, apparels with vibrant colours or bold designs, revealing clothes and flashy jewellery are not very well accepted. The Japanese prefer conservative and elegant dress codes.


Punctuality is important in the Japanese culture. Most Japanese will usually arrive at a meeting venue about 15 minutes before the actual meeting. It is, therefore, advisable that one be at least 5 minutes early for a meeting. In the event that one will be late, he/she should call the other party and inform him/her of the estimated time of arrival.


Group decision-making is a norm in Japan, and it is usually a bottom-up approach. The Japanese tend to consult one another and make decisions collectively, which takes up a lot of time. Therefore, it may also take a longer time to cultivate business relationships in Japan, as compared to western countries. Consistent follow-ups are necessary for any business travellers who are interested in conducting business with the Japanese. In addition, they should be prepared to work with all the staff and not just the business executives.

Conflict Resolution

The Japanese like to maintain harmony and avoid direct confrontation. They may give indirect, ambiguous answers or even agree to a certain proposal even though they have no intention of doing so. To solve this, business parties could prepare a memo for the Japanese and describe the situation and obligations of both parties clearly to test where they stand and elicit a response out of them.