Building successful business relationships—Japan
Japan’s most prominent characteristic according to Hofstede is high Uncertainty Avoidance. Ambiguity is unwelcome and strict rules and procedures are put in place to reduce it. This may explain why the Japanese view conflict—a highly ambiguous subject—negatively. It is generally preferred to submit to the collective opinion, and therefore the Land of the Rising Sun is also considered to be highly Collectivist. The concepts of individual freedom and personal achievement are not regarded as highly as those of group harmony and consensus. Harmony is the ideal answer in all situations, and this is reflected in the negotiation style. The Japanese do not like to use the word “no.” You need to learn to interpret the way things are said. Sometimes you may hear “yes” when the speaker means “no.” This is true in general for countries high on the uncertainty-avoidance scale, and in order to be successful you will need to learn to distinguish these signals. The same goes for smiles and displays of emotion. A smile can express displeasure as much as contentment. You must be careful with your use of facial expressions, because they may be misunderstood. Never point, and try not to gesture with your hands.
To reduce uncertainty about behavior, there are many social rules and rituals in place. There exists a very intricate process for greeting and the giving and receiving of business cards. Rank is important and if greeted with a bow, you must return a bow as low as the one you received. This determines the status of your relationship. When bowing you must keep your palms next to your thighs and your eyes down.
After this comes the exchange of business cards. This process is called meishi koukan. Cards must be given and received with both hands and must contain your home language on one side with the Japanese on the other. When giving your business card, use both hands and present it with the Japanese side up. The Japanese consider business cards to be a direct representation of the individual, and you should handle them with care. Do not write on or bend the card you receive at any cost. This is extreme disrespect. It is a good idea to carry around a small card case to place cards in. Doing otherwise may be considered to deface the individual who gave it to you. Read the card slowly and carefully in order to show respect to the person who gave it to you. No business can begin until this process is complete.