Japanese Culture

Japan

Please check back in September, 2014 for our most recent update of these resources. The Japanese, in general, are shy people and somewhat more formal than typical Americans. In their own society, they have developed a unique set of values, customs, and traditions, and they have rules (of etiquette) for nearly every situation. However, while visiting or living in the States, they try to be considerate and accommodating of others. They respect all religions. The Japanese culture has a group orientation: altruism, team-work, and group cohesiveness are all areas greatly stressed within Japanese society. Individual identity is defined by the social group.

In order to preserve harmony in society and to maintain the clarity of hierarchical structure. Showing respect to others acts as a crucial social lubricant. Respect is conveyed through language, behavior, etiquette, body language, and other subtle forms of non-verbal communication. Successful relationships with Japanese people depend upon three factors; sincerity, compatibility, and trustworthiness. Sincerity means that you are accommodating, understanding, and able to establish a personal relationship. Compatibility is established when you are seen to be concerned about the personal relationship. Trustworthiness relates to your willingness to protect “loss of face” for the Japanese guest.

Japanese Culture Protocol
Japanese Culture
Gestures and Behaviors Additional Information
1. Meeting and Greeting The bow is an integral part of Japanese society. It is used to greet when meeting, to get attention, to show gratitude, to express sympathy, or to convey an apology. While doing business in Japan as a Westerner, you would not be expected to bow. You would most likely be greeted with a handshake combined with a slight nod of the head. In the U.S., you can politely offer a handshake unless the Japanese person bows to you first, in which case you should return the bow (imitating, if possible, how deeply the Japanese person has bowed)
Status is important in Japanese culture. Always greet the most important or senior persons first. Always introduce yourself with your full name. Use American titles, Mr., Mrs., Miss and the surname when addressing your guests.
2. The Protocol for Exchanging Business Cards and Gifts If your meeting has a business purpose, exchanging business cards is essential. It would be proper to have prepared bilingual cards in advance. Using both hands, you would offer your card to your guest with the Japanese side up. It is important that no obstacle (a plant, a chair, or a table) is placed so as to interfere with or distract from the transfer. When accepting a business card, be sure to accept it with both hands. Look at it carefully and then put it in your wallet or in a card case. (In other words, do not treat it casually.) When greeting visitors in your home or when visiting a Japanese home in the U.S., it is not necessary to bring a business card, but it is a most welcome and respectful gesture to do so.
Give a gift with both hands and accept gifts with both hands. If offered a gift, unwrap it with the gift giver in your presence. Admire the paper wrapping as you receive and open the gift.
Gifts, if given, should be given at the end of a visit. Gifts should never be given in groups of four (see #6. Below).
3. Why do some Japanese express themselves in ambiguous or indirect ways? The emphasis in Japanese culture on maintaining harmony has developed in such a way as to allow very vague forms of expression. The cultural logic behind this is that by avoiding direct or explicit statements one has a better chance of not causing offense. Japanese communications are more subtle and often rely on context and “cultural markers” in order to be understood. This is often a source of misunderstandings between our cultures.
4. The Japanese “No” and “Yes” The Japanese “no” is a common source of such confusion.
In contrast to popular belief, the Japanese do say “no.” The Japanese gesture for “no” is fanning your hand sideways a few times in front of your face. Refusals, however, often arrive heavily cloaked in ambiguous language, non-verbal communication and other clues which are clearly understood among the Japanese, but send mixed messages to Westerners. Some of these phrases are:
+ It is a bit difficult…
+ We will examine this matter in a forward-looking manner…
+ Of course, reaching a decision will take time…
The Japanese “yes,” can prove to be no less confusing. The Japanese tend to listen in a much more interactive fashion. They do this through frequent nodding and verbal acknowledgements such as the word, “hai.” This term is often translated directly as “yes” and can easily give the impression that your Japanese
counterpart is in complete agreement with everything you say. It is important not to read any more meaning into this expression than, “Yes, I am listening.”
5. What characteristics do the Japanese exhibit in business and even social meetings? The Japanese like dealing with quiet, sincere individuals who are willing to compromise to come to agreement. Extroverts are seen as brash and arrogant. Early on in negotiations remain humble, indirect, and non-threatening. Do not disagree openly; do not put people on the spot, and always employ diplomatic language when doing business. Be sure to hold off concessions till the end of proceedings. If made early, your integrity will be questioned.
The Japanese are very detail orientated. Expect lots of questions and lots of questions repeated in different ways. Be sure to have the answers as the failure to do so will look unprofessional. Be sure to bring as much information as possible, in writing, on your company, service, product or proposal.
Silence is considered a virtue. If things go quiet when doing business in a meeting, do not panic. Reflection is taking place. Silence may also be accompanied by the closing of the eyes. Never interrupt or break the silence.
Personal space is valued because the Japanese live in such a densely populated area.
The Japanese frown on open displays of affection. They do not touch in public. It is highly inappropriate to touch someone of the opposite sex in public.
6. What Japanese customs are completely foreign to Americans? There are many things the Japanese avoid doing, not because they are rude, but because they are considered bad luck. People hide their thumbs, as funeral cars pass them. It is bad to sleep facing north as that is how dead bodes are laid. Four is an unlucky number as the pronunciation is similar to that of death (shi). Room and floor numbers usually skip four and gifts are not given in groups of four. Chopsticks should not be stuck in the food because they resemble incense stuck into altar rice at funerals. Giving food from one pair of chopsticks to another is not done.
—Avoid using large hand gestures, unusual facial expressions and any dramatic movements. The Japanese do not talk with their hands and to do so could distract your host.
—Never pour a drink for yourself; always allow someone else to do it for you.
—In Japan, it is normal to “slurp” when you are eating noodles and, similarly, to “gulp” when you are drinking.
7. What other customs should we be aware of? It’s polite to initially refuse someone’s offer of help. Japanese may also initially refuse your offer even if they really want it. Traditionally an offer is made 3 times. It may be better to state you’ll carry their bag, call a taxi, etc., instead of pushing them to be polite and refuse.
When they laugh, Japanese women often cover their mouths with their hand. This comes from an old Buddhist notion that showing bone is unclean, as well as lack of orthodontics in Japan. If you’re a woman you have no obligation to copy this, but you will soon notice how frequently Japanese do this.
It’s polite to bring some food (gift-wrapped in more formal situations) or drinks when you visit someone. Gift giving is very important in Japan, but extravagant gifts require an equal or slightly higher extravagant gift in return. Avoid giving pricey gifts. It’s polite to belittle the value of your gift or food when you offer it, even if it’s blatantly untrue. In more formal circumstances it’s impolite to unwrap a gift someone brings you as soon as you receive it. In casual surroundings it’s normal to ask the giver if it can be opened now.
It’s polite to see a guest to the door (or the front of a building even) when they leave.
Japanese often compliment each other to promote good will, but it is polite to deny how well you speak Japanese, how nice you look, etc.
American Gestures which may be considered confusing or unacceptable to the Japanese
8. Do take your shoes off when entering the house. Most families prefer that you take your shoes off. It is best to politely ask the family’s preference. However, if paper or other slippers are offered to you, it would be very rude to refuse.
9. Sitting with soles of feet or shoe showing meaning an insult to others around you Remove shoes, when possible, upon entering a home. In formal situations, keep your feet flat on the floor. [In Japan, Thailand, Middle and Near East, Saudi Arabia, Muslim countries, and in France and England, this is taken as an insult.]
10. Avoid the “OK” sign In Japan, this sign means “money.”
11. Pointing is not acceptable The Japanese gesture for “Come here” is to put your hand palm out, fingers up, and raise and lower your fingers a few times. The western gesture of palm-up, closing your hand is only used to call animals to you.
12. Blowing nose, coughing, etc. If you have to blow your nose, leave the room or at least face away from everyone; use a Kleenex not a handkerchief.
13. Promptness Do not be late to appointments.
14. Avoid excessive physical and eye contact Avoid backslapping, prodding, or guiding someone by touching.
15. Do not point with the index finger to call attention to someone or something Use the whole hand to call attention to something or someone.
16. Do not embarrass your guest by shouting
to them.
Do not shout loudly to someone to get attention—wave, or go up to them
17. The American gesture of pointing at one’s chest to say “Who, me?” would not be understood by Japanese persons. The Japanese gesture for “Who, me?” is pointing at their nose, not their chest.
18. Avoid sarcasm Japan has no tradition of making sarcastic remarks to make a point, nor “Bronx cheers” or “the Finger” — avoid using them.
19. Avoid chewing gum or eating while
walking about
Do not chew gum when working or if you are in formal situations.
20. About women Women should not wear pants (except for business).
Women should only wear low-heeled shoes to avoid towering over men.
21. About women There is no custom of “Ladies First.”
22. About women Dress nicely, but avoid excessive jewelry or other types of over display.