Social Interaction

One of the fundamental concepts that helps shape Japanese business customs is a heavy emphasis on personal relationships. This focus plays out in many dimensions of Japanese society, especially in business. A well documented example of this principal is the tendency of most Japanese corporations to “hire for life” so to speak, which means that an employee is hired with the expectation that he will remain with the company for the remainder of his/her working career.

Building relationships is an essential part of Japanese business etiquette and social interaction is the basis of building any relationship. As a foreigner looking to establish trust and build strong personal relationships, there are certain rules that should be understood and considered.

The Japanese commonly meet after work at bars, restaurants, and karaoke lounges to unwind. If you are invited to participate in a social outing after a business meeting, you should make every possible effort to go. Drinking is a significant part of Japanese culture and serves as a way to unwind and relieve stress. If your counterparts are drinking then you should try to drink. Making time to interact socially outside of the workplace will go very far in building the right relationships for future business.

When participating in a social gathering where alcoholic drinks are being served, you should not start drinking until there is a toast. Never pour your own drink, you should wait for someone else to pour your drink for you. Never drink directly from any bottle or can. Ask for a glass before you consume any alcoholic beverage.If you are pressured to drink do not be uncomfortable as it is typical for the Japanese to do this. Use the term ”Sumimasen” or “kekko disu” to say that you’ve had enough. In Japanese culture and business etiquette this is clearly understood.

Japanese business etiquette dictates that while dining, the seller is the one that is expected to pay for the meal and the buyer is the one who should be treated. However, Japanese host will usually pay for the meal. Still, you should make an attempt to pay regardless of who is the buyer or seller. Do not display money at any point during the dining experience. Displaying money is not customary in Japanese business etiquette.

When dining it is customary in Japanese etiquette for people to slurp their noodles or soup. This is a display of enjoyment and you should make an effort to do this if you are comfortable with it. You should also know how to use chopsticks. Using chopsticks is a minimum requirement for dining.

An important notion to understand in Japanese business etiquette is the value the Japanese place on maintaining a good image. This may become apparent when your Japanese counterpart will be very reluctant to directly answer “no” to any requests that you make. Frequently the Japanese will make every possible effort to avoid saying “no” or turning down someone’s request if at all possible. The Japanese believe that directly turning down someone’s request will cause them to lose their positive image. As a result the Japanese have become masters at suggestive communication. This form of communication can be very difficult to interpret by foreigners, so it is very important to understand the methodology of this behavior in Japanese business etiquette. Generally if your Japanese counterpart responds to your request with “I will have to see” or “ I will consider it”, they are saying no. Be very keen to similar forms of communication.

Your hosts may bring up the idea of getting together socially later. This may be a sincere invitation to dinner; it may just be polite banter. Do not be offended if an invitation turns out to have been just talk and don’t aggressively bug your counterpart about when you can get together. He may not say “no” directly so you might need to read from his body language what he really wants.