The Japanese place a high level of value on etiquette and protocol during any type of business affairs. This rule holds true to foreigners as well. However, the Japanese are generally very forgiving to foreigners as long as they show respect and an effort to understand the Japanese culture and business etiquette. Often the Japanese host will offer to help you in any way that they can.
When meeting for any type of business affairs you should always play it safe and dress formally. Business casual attire is not always accepted in Japanese business etiquette. Of course there are situations where it is appropriate to dress casually such as a sporting event or activity, but you would never want to be the one who is underdressed in comparison to the group. On the contrary, it never hurts you to be overdressed for any occasion, therefore, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Your demeanor should be conservative. It is not common for the Japanese businessman to be brash and abrasive. That type of behavior can result in lack of trust and you may not be taken very seriously. Avoid using flashy pens or articles of clothing. Also, do not write in red ink, use black or blue.
When first meeting face to face with your Japanese host, it is important to honor the Japanese cultural traditions. You should first bow and wait to see if your Japanese counterpart initiates a handshake. Although your Japanese host will likely offer a handshake, it is not as natural for them as bowing. It is important to understand this principal and demonstrate it to your Japanese counterpart.
When the time comes to sit down and meet with your Japanese hosts, it is important to wait for direction on where to sit. Seating is much more important than one may suspect and each persons seating position is determined by their status. Usually the highest ranking person will take the head of the table, and the subordinates will sit on both sides of the table. The higher ranking people will sit closest to the highest ranking person, and the rank will decrease as you travel toward the opposite side of the table.
Another important rule to remember is that you do not want to be the first or only one sitting. You don’t have to wait for the instruction to sit down, but if none of your Japanese hosts are sitting than you should not be the one to break the ice. This rule applies to mostly all actions that may occur during a meeting such as speaking, drinking, eating, and others.
It is very important to show interest in the meeting and acknowledge every members input. It may help to take notes or repeat an idea to clarify. This will keep you involved in the dialog and also make you look like you are very interested in what is happening.
Finally, Gifts may be presented during a meeting. They are not mandatory for you or your host, but it always makes for a nice gesture. If you receive a gift from your Japanese host, make sure that you show your appreciation and thank everyone who was involved in its presentation. If the gift is wrapped you should wait until you leave to open it.