American business custom and tradition are well-defined and understood nation-wide. American business people offer firm handshakes, make direct eye contact, and have a drink or two when meeting with a client. Across the Pacific Ocean, Japanese businessmen and women adhere to practices that would immediately confuse many Americans, while many commonly accepted American practices would profoundly offend the Japanese. Let’s take a look!
1. The Business Card
The business card, once a symbol of prestige in America, can be seen somewhat on the decline these days. On the other hand, the business card is looked at with utmost respect and a peculiar routine is required when distributing one to a Japanese businessman. You must offer it, using both hands, with the card face up. An American must accept a business card with both hands and give sincere thanks. The business card should also never be played with during a meeting or be written on, both out of respect.
The Japanese business man stereotype portrays a hardworking and industrial executive who is driven and strict. Though this is not far from the truth, they sure know how to have fun. Marathon drinking sessions can often be observed in a Japanese business model. Young employees usually struggle to keep up with their experienced bosses when throwing back drink after drink on the job. Because of the specific pigment in their skin, the Japanese get noticeably bright red in the face when even slightly intoxicated. This is a good sign that someone’s having fun!
South of the American border, many countries participate in “siestas” or naps during the hottest part of the afternoon, in which businesses close up shop and employees sleep for a few hours. Americans get only a lunch break with the typical 9-5 working day. Japan, conversely, encourages napping at work. “Inemuri”, is the Japanese term for a quick cat nap meant to recharge the batteries. It shows hard work and focus, and is also a good cure for that at-work hangover!
The handshake, instead of firm and strong, like back in the States, is limp and requires no eye contact. Eye contact is looked down upon whereas you are instead supposed to look someone in the chin. The Japanese value nodding much more than verbal agreement. They place a higher value on non-verbal communication and avoid chatter. The Japanese are blatantly against affection, so please don’t try to end a meeting with a pat on the shoulder or even stand too close to an associate. Believe it or not, the Japanese are even against crossing your legs! Its very important that one sits upright with both feet on the floor.
5. Dining out
Much against traditional American dining signals, an empty plate in Japan means you are ready for more food. If you are finished eating when out to eat with a Japanese counterpart, one has to leave a small amount of food on their plate to show they are full. The same applies to drinking, so never completely finish your drink unless you’re ready to throw another one back. It is actually socially acceptable to fill up the remainder of whatever beverage with water to signify that you don’t want another drink. Also, if you need a little help using chopsticks (I know I do), here’s a simple four-step guide!