When getting to know someone in Japan, they will tend to
ask you very personal questions to help build a relationship with you.
Always be polite when you tell them what you want to tell them. Japanese
tend to apologize for everything. Always pretend a Japanese person understands
you even if you do not think that they do. Ask the same question in a different
way or re-phrase an answer to help them understand. This is called "face-saving"
and is very important in the Japanese culture. Also, remain indirect when
discussing business matters. Always direct the group as a whole and then
the individuals starting with the oldest person. And finally, be careful
when asking certain questions. The Japanese interpret questions and answers
differently. Responses to questions are also interpreted differently. Try
to have a conversation in as many Japanese sentences as possible.
Topics To Avoid
Two things to avoid when speaking to someone from Japan are:
World War II and making jokes. The Japanese do not like to discuss WWII,
especially the Pearl Harbor incident. Also, Japanese will usually not get
your joke. Only make jokes if they are very easy to understand, self-deprecating,
and are made in a social - rather than business - setting.
Good Topics Of Conversation
The Japanese like to talk because it helps to build relationships
with other people. They love to discuss their family, the history of Japan,
Japanese artistic achievements, and sports, such as golf and ski jumping.
Japanese also love to hear praise about the hospitality you are receiving
and they like to hear positive comments about the Japanese economy.
The Japanese follow indirect tactics for both verbal and
nonverbal communication. When entering a Japanese home, it is respectful
to remove your hat, gloves, and shoes by the door. Japanese bow as a greeting
instead of shaking hands. The proper way to bow is from the waist with
your hands sliding down toward the knees. Your back and neck should remain
stiff and your eyes averted. The bow as a greeting means you have respect
for the wisdom and experience of the other person. The Japanese are great
listeners and may appear to be asleep, but they are really listening and
absorbing everything you are saying. Japanese are very shy and reserved,
so they tend to avoid eye contact.
The Japanese are very group oriented. They usually have open
office spaces for each group to work together. Even though they work together
in groups, on a personal level, they are not very close. They do not touch
very often and avoid casual contact with others.
Punctuality is very important in the Japanese culture. The
Japanese are very patient and they use very few words when communicating.
They look beyond words and focus on inferred meanings. When communicating
with Japanese, one must read between the lines. The Japanese find people
that are less verbal to be more attractive. The Japanese are also very
cautious, complementary, and sympathetic when communicating.
STYLE OF COMMUNICATION
Confrontation is highly discouraged in Japan. The Japanese
never say "no" in public. This makes negotiating very difficult. A person
from another country may interpret the Japanese silence or lack of the
word "no" as a definite yes or acceptance of a contract.
Feedback in Japan is very delayed. The Japanese follow a
custom called Ringi, which is a complete consensus process. Before
decisions are made, the entire group and different levels in the organization
must agree on the decision, then the president makes the final decision.
The Japanese also have a custom that is standard in Japanese operating
procedure called Naniwabushi. This is the custom of getting on such
close personal terms with someone that he/she will have to do you a favor.
This process takes time and leads to delayed feedback. The Japanese also
think a lot before making decisions or answering questions which also leads
to delayed feedback.
The Japanese are very proud of their history and their culture.
They will do anything to defend the group, their families, the company
they work for, and the country. The Japanese always mix business with social
communication, but never in their homes. They will take people to lavish
dinners at Japanese restaurants or take them on a night on the town at
the many nightclubs in Japan's larger cities. The Japanese also think of
gift giving as being customary, but be very careful when giving or receiving
gifts. Many guidelines should be followed when gift giving or receiving.
Also, receiving a gift could lead to obligations that may later be awkward.
Axtell, Roger E. Do's and Taboos Around the World, 3rd Edition,
The Parker Pen Company, 1993.
Miyakoda, Aya. Interview. February 2002.
Miyakoda, Tooru. Interview. February 2002.