Japanese Business Meetings Can but Shouldn’t Be Intimidating

Japanese Business Meetings Can but Shouldn’t Be Intimidating

It’s not just you. The thought of approaching your first Japanese business meeting is daunting for many. Even the most confident and assured Western business powerhouse has been rendered an anxious mess at the overwhelming concept of doing face-to-face business with a culture which is portrayed as being very different to our own.

The reality however is that there is little to fear. Japanese businessmen may be shown as overly strict on TV shows but in the real world this is not the case. Yes, the Japanese have a rich culture which is powered greatly by the way they passionately honour their traditions. At the boardroom table however, there is a genuine understanding that different cultures are just that, different. With this comes a general acceptance that we’re not going to get everything right. Everything but the highest level of insults or unprofessionalism is generally forgiven.

Where you should be mindful though, is that if you’re building a relationship and want to create a great first impression, what will set you apart from the rest is effort. Making the odd mistake is acceptable, overall, it’s making the effort to get it right and show respect to your new business relationship that’s important. Here are some tips for that all important first introduction:


Probably the most intimidating part of the process is the first five minutes of the meeting, particularly the initial greeting phase. Should you bow? Yes, absolutely. Though keep in mind that when greeting a Western business partner or new contact, many Japanese businessmen will out of courtesy extend a hand for a handshake. If a hand is extended, then always accept it. It would be a sign of respect for you to bow after the handshake.

Hierarchy and respect for seniors is important in Japanese culture. Unless made physically awkward by the layout of the room, you should always great the most senior people in the room first.

How to Bow

The length of a bow is a show of respect, so though you may feel awkward at first, don’t rush it. You’ll find that bowing becomes easier the more you do it and with individuals you build a longer relationship with, the bowing becomes a little more casual.

Don’t forget to keep your back straight and bend at the hips. Don’t slouch into it, it will feel a little militant but, in all honesty, it should. It is advisable to have your arms down by your sides and what ever you do, don’t maintain eye contact during your bow. This is considered aggressive.

Removing Your Shoes

Before entering any sitting areas or households, it is customary to remove your outside shoes. The best thing to do is to always allow your host to lead you so that you can see at which point they stop to remove their shoes. If in doubt a neat line of shoes, a shoe rack or an area for stored internal slippers will be the giveaway.

If in doubt, always ask. It is hugely disrespectful and considered unhygienic to enter these areas wearing your shoes.

Tags: business meetings, culture, etiquette

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