We now understand some facets of Japanese culture and have gone through business card (meishi) introduction protocols, now onto the meeting room.
In terms of attire, generally people who stand out are not thought of highly. With that being said, dark suits, white shirts, and subdued ties for men are appropriate. Also, polished shoes are something else you should consider, since they will be quite the focal point during meishi exchanges. For women, business suits or dresses at a conservative length are acceptable.
Hierarchy reigns: seniors, or those of highest rank, are greeted first, allowed to enter the room first, and are seated first. In terms of seating arrangements, wait to be seated, as these arrangements are usually thought out in advance. The most honored position is in the middle of the table (where a person of high rank would sit) and the second person of highest rank would be seated on the opposite side, guests of honor are seated farthest from the door in the middle of the table.
Meetings, especially first meetings, are typically formalities where information is exchanged and pre-made decisions are confirmed. This first meeting is an introduction to not only your company but you as a person. The Japanese consider business relationships and personal relationships as of equal importance. Your team should be well organized, each knowledgeable of all material, and understanding their roles in the business meeting. Should you and your team disagree with each other or seem unsure or uncertain, do not let the Japanese see this, as this will also create doubt in their minds about your projects or proposals. Additionally, changing terms of an agreement at the last minute implies unreliability and trustworthiness. Be sure to provide plenty of information that cannot be deduced, in additional translated materials to leave behind so as to answer any questions.
Though business meetings may conclude during the day, it is not uncommon to be asked to dinner or drinks after hours. Do not turn this down, as many business transactions occur after hours. The Japanese have two personalities: a personality for the office or formal situations – tatemae (tot-eh-mai), and a genuine personality where one expresses what he or she truly feels and believes – honne (ho-ney). These after hour meetings allow you, the visitor, to gain the trust of your Japanese colleagues. It is also during these after hour meetings that useful information can be gained from lower ranking Japanese colleagues, where they may tell their American counterparts their boss’s true feelings concerning the business meeting. Do note, however, that women are not welcome where geisha are present nor are spouses expected to attend business dinners.
A playlist of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Journey, and Madonna, and some of your favorites on the flight over can help you brush up on your lyrics, for you may be asked to belt out your favorite song later in the evening.
You have to take care of business…even after hours.