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Cultural briefing: Asian markets

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  1. Introduction
  2. Japanese business: Misunderstood or misrepresented
  3. Making appointments
  4. Conversation
  5. Entertaining for business success
  6. Things to know before negotiating
  7. Acceptable public conduct
  8. Conclusion

Japanese business culture is wrongly perceived as the biggest obstacle to starting business in Japan for many foreign companies thinking of entering the Japanese market. Many foreign companies never do start business in Japan (or only enter the Japanese market through a distributor) simply because of the misconception, fueled by those infamous myths of doing business in Japan, that dealing with Japanese business culture is somehow too risky. Fortunately, Japanese business culture is not an impenetrable barrier to successful business in Japan, as proven by the very substantial Japanese market share enjoyed by Yahoo!, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and many others. Inevitably Japanese business culture is different than that of the US or Europe, but the differences do not make it any more risky to do business in Japan than elsewhere in the world. In fact, certain aspects of Japan's business culture, especially the very stable long-term relationships resulting from the conservative Japanese sense of loyalty to trusted partners, can be very beneficial for those foreign companies that understand how to swim with the cultural tide as opposed to vainly struggling against it.

[...] Japanese sense of loyalty to trusted partners, can be very beneficial for those foreign companies that understand how to swim with the cultural tide as opposed to vainly struggling against it. Making Appointments If you want to make an appointment, but don't have a connection, a personal call will be more effective than sending a letter. Moreover, a letter requesting an appointment might go unanswered. Punctuality is necessary when doing business here; the Japanese believe it is rude to be late. [...]


[...] If it is necessary to discuss bad news, use an intermediary, such as the one who introduced you to the company. Outbursts of laughter are not always indicative of mirth in this culture. Laughter is also used to mask feelings such as nervousness, shock, embarrassment, confusion, and disapproval. Periods of silence lasting between 10-15 seconds during meetings and conversations are considered useful rather than uncomfortable. You may find that your Japanese counterparts will not be specific about what they expect from you. [...]


[...] Acceptable public conduct Public Behavior Maintain a quiet, low-key, and polite manner at all times. A bow,?ojigi? [oh-jee-ghee], can be a way of greeting someone, acknowledging a person, expressing thanks, saying ?I'm sorry? or even asking for a favour. The Japanese will shake hands with Westerners as a way of making others feel comfortable. In turn, it's an asset for Westerners to bow, to demonstrate that they are taking the initiative to learn Japanese customs. This simple gesture can do a lot to help a businessperson in establishing rapport with a potential Japanese client. [...]

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