Hajimemashite (Ha-jee-meh-mosh-teh), nice to meet you.
The Japanese culture can be just as difficult to decipher as the Japanese characters and language. The Japanese are a very proud people who maintain a unique identity rooted in age-old traditions. These cultural norms and practices affect the way that the Japanese conduct business, which affects the way that business persons who wish to do business in Japan need to be aware of. In order to successfully conduct business in Japan, we need to try and understand the Japanese mind.
- When entering a home and some restaurants, you are expected to remove your shoes.
- Always be on time!
- Business dinners mean business attire.
- While you should refrain from talking too much while eating, it is okay to slurp your noodles (it shows appreciation for the cooking).
- Leave the rice alone! No soy sauce on the white rice! A seaweed and sesame seed topping, called furikake, is used as a garnish.
Identity and the Individual: In America, the explorer and the pioneer are praised for the guts and gumption to take chances. We praised these pioneers for taking risks and experimenting, while we profit from their successes and forgot their failures, because their failures were exactly that, their failures. In America, we praise the individual and essentially separate them from who they work for or any group affiliation. It is the individual first and the company or other associations second. In Japan, it is the reverse. The group is more important than the individual. The Japanese think and act on behalf of the group, whereas an individual’s failure in America is the individual’s failure, the individual’s failure in Japan is the company’s failure. So remember, you and your team are a representation of your whole company. Your actions and behavior will be interpreted as the company’s attitude and not just your own.
Harmony: Their philosophy of groupthink is simply stated with the aphorism: “We all eat from the same pot”. We all contribute to the success of this organization and are all responsible for its failures. A commonly recognized aphorism in America would be the Three Musketeers’ “One for all, and all for One.” Japan is a small island with limited resources, so before industrialization, during the modern age of Japan, farmers had to cooperate with the villagers, both acting for the good of all, trying to achieve a positive-sum game, one which everyone wins. The idea of harmony is a concept that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, and it carries over to the meeting rooms. For example, Americans tend to debate until a solution is reached. Actual debate with the Japanese, involving conflict, creates discomfort and can cause a loss of face which is seen as an embarrassment. Japanese business persons will try to achieve harmony and avoid conflict at all costs.
Taking the time to understand the Japanese mind, is essential to your business succeeding in Japan.