Experiencing a different culture is one of the great joys of travel. This guide will help you have a stress-free time while in Japan for meetings, conventions, venue inspections and incentive trips. You may even discover some Japanese customs you wish to incorporate into your own daily life!
1. Embrace the art of bowing
Body contact is generally avoided when greeting people in Japan. Rather than handshakes, hugs and kisses, a bow is the most common way to address people. Bows are used in various circumstances: when you meet or say goodbye to someone, to thank or ask for a favor, as an apology and in prayers or worship.
How deeply you bow conveys your position in relation to the person you are addressing. The simplest, and one which can be used informally, is to bend about 15 degrees. Bowing about 30 degrees is common to show respect for someone older or in a higher position than you. The most respectful way, is the 45 to 70 degree bow, which shows deep respect or regret.
2. Take plenty of business cards
Exchanging business cards is an important part of networking in Japan. It acts as an icebreaker when meeting for the first time and gives your counterpart a first impression of you and your company.
Business cards are like “faces” for business people. They are considered an extension of yourself and the people you are meeting. This is why in Japan care is taken to hand over your business card with two hands. Likewise, receive the business card you are given with two hands. Bow your head and say thank you. You will have many opportunities to exchange business cards in Japan, so please give this technique a try!
3. Pack easy to remove shoes
In homes and various public settings it is customary to remove your shoes in Japan. You are likely to take your shoes off multiple times a day, so pack neat socks and shoes that are easy to slip in and out of.
The custom of removing shoes indoors comes from Japanese living arrangements. In homes traditionally tatami mat flooring is sat on when eating meals and slept on with a futon. Shoes are removed to keep the floor clean and protect the straw-woven mats.
Restaurants, historic buildings, temples, ryokan inns and hot springs are just some of the public places where you may be required to remove your shoes before entering.
4. Study up on footwear etiquette
After removing your shoes, it is respectful to leave them facing towards the door. It will also make it easier for you to slip them back on when you leave.
Slippers may be provided for you to wear. If entering a room with tatami mats, remove the slippers before stepping on the mats. Toilet slippers are common in restaurants. Wear these when using the bathroom and don’t forget to remove them before re-entering the restaurant.
5. Understand why people wear face coverings
In Japan people wearing masks is a common sight. The primary reason people wear masks is consideration for others; for instance, wearing a mask when you have a cold to stop your germs spreading. Masks are also worn to avoid catching a cold or virus; during hay fever season; and some people even wear them to hide a pimple or when they don’t feel like putting on make-up.
Enjoying food and drink together is an important and fun part of doing business in Japan. Be mindful of the following points to blend in like a local.
6. Wipe your hands clean before meals
At restaurants you’ll often be given a hot or cold towel before eating. This is to clean your hands, but not your face. After using the towel, fold or roll it up and neatly place it on the table. You will also be served complimentary tea and water at restaurants in Japan.
7. Say “kampai”
Always wait until everyone has been served a drink and someone has given a toast before you raise your glass and take your first sip. The word for cheers is “kampai” and it is a good one to learn before your trip!
8. Express gratitude before and after meals
There are two phrases you are sure to hear when dining with Japanese companions - “itadakimasu” - said before eating and basically meaning “I am glad to receive this food" - and “gochisosama desu,” said after finishing a meal, loosely translated as “thanks for the food.” It will be appreciated if you remember and use these phrases, as well as “oishii” to express when you eat something you think is delicious!
9. Slurp to your hearts content
You might be surprised to learn that some things considered rude in your home country are perfectly acceptable in Japan. When eating ramen, soba or udon noodles, slurping is common and taken as a sign of appreciation. In east Japan, including Tokyo, sushi can be eaten with your hands; however, in the west, including Osaka and Kyoto, chopsticks are usually used. When eating rice, do as the locals do and lift the bowl towards your mouth while eating. But don’t pour soy sauce over white cooked rice! Japanese take grade pride in their rice and the flavor is to be enjoyed in its pure, nature state.
Most important of all is to enjoy your time in Japan. You will not be expected to know all the Japanese social conventions. JNTO’s Japan Convention Bureau team is here to assist you with site inspections and planning your meetings and events in Japan. Our Head Quarters are in Tokyo and we also have local contacts in New York, London, Paris, Singapore and Seoul. Find out more about our services and out team here
We look forward to supporting you to make your business events in Japan a great success.