If meetings in Japan were conducted the way they are in USA, there would be hara-kiri, mayhem, samurai slashing and chaos. The chaos would especially intensify if Americans and Japanese got together to attend a conference center event full of speakers from all over the world.
These statements may kind of sound strange to you, but in reality the Japanese conduct business differently. Here are some of the major differences between America’s and Japan’s meeting culture:
- The Japanese wear formal business attire when attending business meetings. Americans are casual with their business attire, and that is considered uncommon in Japan.
- Seating arrangement in Japanese meetings is decided based on the status of each participant. Every participant is directed to his seat. Americans generally park themselves anywhere they want.
- The head honcho sits on the “presiding” or the “CEO” seat. Other people are directed to their seats after the head honcho takes his. By the way, the # 2, 3, etc., guys sit right next to the head honcho in order of their status.
- At the start of the meeting, no one sits unless the big boss is seated. At the close, no one stands until the big boss stands. That’s not how it works in USA.
- In Japan, beverages are served at the beginning of the meeting, but participants can’t start sipping until their superiors start sipping or drinking.
- Business meetings in Japan involve an exchange of gifts, particularly when the participants are from another country.
- Japanese participants and speakers love it when people take notes, but they have an aversion to red ink.
- If dinner is followed by a meeting, be prepared to pick up the bill if you are a seller who stands to gain from doing business with the Japanese company. If you are a buyer, the Japanese will pick up the tab. As a thumb rule, the inviting party pays.
- The Japanese may ask you questions about your age, marriage, kids, etc. Such questions may make you uncomfortable, but they are not considered offensive in Japan’s corporate circles.
- The Japanese enjoy alcohol after dinner and expect their guests to love it as well. If they force you to drink, you should not appear annoyed.
- Americans love drinking alcohol straight from the bottle. The Japanese hate it. You should drink it from a glass.
- Don’t tip in the land of the rising sun – it’s not a common practice there. Not tipping can save us Americans some hard-earned corporate cash.
- Eat a little bit of everything at the table and don’t make a face if you don’t like the way it looks or the way it tastes. Be polite and smile courteously even if what you ate is alive and kicking. The Japanese enjoy hearing that you like their food, and if there’s something that you don’t like, inform your hosts in advance – they will appreciate that.
So, if you’re an American getting all set for a proper Japanese meeting (at home or abroad), keep these basic tips in mind.