1. When you meet a client for the first time, you will need to exchange business cards or meishi (may-she). There are two golden rules which, if you follow them, will make your client feel valued and at ease with their foreign guest. The first is that you must always accept a business card with both hands taking both edges of the card in your fingertips as it is passed to you from the hands of your client. Secondly, when you have the card in both hands, pause and take a moment to read all the information on the card. Only then is it polite to put the card away, and it is better to place it carefully back in your wallet rather than casually slipping it into a pocket – you have to show that you value this relationship and that what they have given to you is important and will be kept in a safe place for future reference. After this first part of the exchange, you can then offer your business card, again, passing it over with two hands and waiting while your client takes a moment to look at it and put it in a safe place. There are many situations when Japanese people do not expect a foreigner to get it right (an obvious case being the ritual of bowing), but handing over business cards is one occasion where it is right to go that extra mile in order to set the tone of the relationship.
2. You will probably be treated to a business lunch with your clients and in this situation also there are some easy ways to express your appreciation. Firstly, you should understand that Japanese are extremely proud of their cuisine, so do not underestimate their feelings on this. Of course, as a foreigner in Japan, there may be dishes which you honestly cannot bring yourself to eat – you could be offered a shrimp in the last moments of its life convulsing on your plate, but this only goes to show how fresh the dish is and how good the restaurant. If you really cannot stomach what is served, politely and discreetly ask your client if there is another dish you could try. If you are eating sushi, do not pick off the fish and just eat the rice, as the fish is the most expensive part of the dish; simply find a variety of sushi that is more suited to your tastes. As you eat a meal with a Japanese person you should comment on how delicious the food is, especially in the first moments, but repeated throughout the meal and in agreement with others. In Japanese you can simply say oshii (oi-she), or for more formality, oshii desu (drop the “u” sound and pronounce as des). Japanese people, with their enthusiasm for food and pride in Japanese cuisine, will feel disappointed if you do not show some appreciation for the dish which has been lovingly prepared and carefully presented to you; this is true for meals in restaurants as well as simple meals cooked in a family home.
3. As you enter into discussion with your Japanese clients, you will no doubt use a variety of hand gestures to emphasize points that you are trying to make. In the West, we use hand gestures far more than the Japanese, but there is one gesture that you should really train yourself not to use during discussion with Japanese clients and this is pointing. To a Japanese person, pointing seems aggressive and impolite. If you need to point to something or someone, put all your fingers together, turn your hand palm facing upwards and point it in the direction of the person or thing you are referring to. There is no doubt that Westerners behave differently during discussion from the Japanese and, although Japanese people should and will take this into consideration as they talk with you, it does not hurt for the sake of building a relationship to tone down your gestures as you communicate with your Japanese clients, after all “when in Rome…”.
And beyond Japanese Business Etiquette 101? Check out the JETRO website (Japan External Trade Organisation) for extensive information on doing business with Japan and, of course, contact EVS Translations for all your Japanese to English and English to Japanese translation and interpreting needs.
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