The Yoroshiku Guide [Japanese Business Edition]: A crash course on business manners in Japan.

The other day I bumped into Takuya Shokyu, the CEO and co-founder of mingl Inc.

We had a casual conversation and ended up discussing customs and traditions of doing business in Japan. I was surprised to discover that Takuya’s team, which is made of a bunch of internationals, wrote a little guidebook to help people who are new to japanese culture to understand the subtle ways in which things are done here. It covers different aspects of Japanese business culture from basic greetings at work to interviewing tips and business manners. I had a quick glance at The Yoroshiku Guide and in this article I will touch on a few aspects which I found interesting. 

1. Different degrees of bowing: use a proper bow for each occasion.

I wasn’t aware that there are different ways to bow. To me, it looked the same every time. Apparently, there is quick one called Eshaku (会釈) where you lean at about a 15 degree angle from your normal position. This is just neutral politeness and can be used pretty much anywhere. You can use it to say “Hi” or ‘Goodbye”, similar to how you nod when you see someone you know. 

If you’re, however, dealing with customers, clients or your superiors, it’s better to opt for a deeper 30 degree angle bow called Futsurei (普通礼). Customer service in Japan has very high standards and clients will be expecting no less than Futsurei for bringing their business to you. So is your boss for hiring and paying you.

Last but not least, if you want to show deep gratitude or deep apology, go for Saikeirei (最敬礼): a deep bow at a 45 degree angle. If you screw up at work, do Saikeirei and apologize. If you meet your partner’s parents, the biggest client of yours or the Emperor of Japan, definitely go for Saikeirei.

2. Seating arrangements: don’t take a seat of honor, unless it’s offered to you.

This was a surprise for me when I came to Japan because in my tradition the most important person in the room sits in the middle of the table. In Japan it is somewhat different. The best seat, also known as Seat of Honor (Kamiza 上座), is tucked away in the corner as far away from the exit as possible. By trying to be humble and taking a corner seat, I could have easily come off as arrogant to customers and lose business because I was being perceived as rude. 

After reading The Yoroshiku Guide, I learned that “as far away from exit as possible” rule does not always apply. For example, if the room has a window with a nice view or a big painting on the wall which you can contemplate, the best seat would be the furthest from the exit but facing the window or the painting. 

The other interesting fact about seating arrangements is that they go beyond work. For example, when the family gathers for dinner, the head of the household will take the most honorable seat. So if you’re visiting your Japanese friends or extended family for a casual dinner, please pay attention to where Kamiza is as it will usually be reserved for the host.

3. Exchanging business cards: give with right hand, receive with left one.

The culture of exchanging business cards is very much alive in Japan and great emphasis is placed on how it’s done. One aspect which I found interesting was that you have to give your card to someone with your right hand and, therefore, receive someone’s card with a left hand. Just as with bowing, I wasn’t really paying attention to this and, being right-handed by nature, I think I did it correctly 90% of the time. Still, it’s useful to know that this is a proper way to do it. Also, it’s never keep your business card holder in the back pocket or put customer’s business card in the back pocket. It’s next to your butt, and thus it’s considered impolite.

The culture of exchanging business cards is very much alive in Japan and great emphasis is placed on how it’s done. One aspect which I found interesting was that you have to give your card to someone with your right hand and, therefore, receive someone’s card with a left hand.

Just as with bowing, I wasn’t really paying attention to this and, being right-handed by nature, I think I did it correctly 90% of the time. Still, it’s useful to know that this is a proper way to do it. Also, it’s never keep your business card holder in the back pocket or put customer’s business card in the back pocket. It’s next to your butt, and thus it’s considered impolite.

Overall, I can say that even after 2 years of being in Japan, I found the guide to be really useful. I wish I would have read it when I just arrived. It would have made things much easier. You can order yours here or find a kindle version on Amazon. It costs 1000 JPY for paperback and 870 JPY for kindle, which is really good value for money.

About mingl Inc.

mingl Inc. is a creative studio which focuses on cross-cultural communication and design with an aim to make Japan a more global and inclusive society. “The Yoroshiku Guide [Japanese Business Edition]” is a friendly little guidebook for those who are entering and partnering with Japanese companies or looking to better understand the basics of Japanese business etiquette.

By Oleg Koval

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