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Japanese Business Culture

Natasha Bantwal
For most foreign companies who are seriously contemplating entering the Japanese market, business culture has always been wrongly perceived as one of the biggest hurdles to starting a business in the country.
Being the land of peace and harmony, Japan has continued to evolve into a positively brilliant unification of modernization and tradition. With its colorful history and elaborate culture, this country had become an ideal model of honor, hierarchy, and, of course, etiquette, that is till date reflected in many business practices.

What Constitutes as Japanese Culture for Business?

I am not learned in terms of business affairs, and my interest when it comes to Japanese business culture is purely based on how the culture of the people can affect the tactics or mechanics of successfully opening a business in Japan.
Based on more than 10 years of sales experience in the market, I will try to provide you with an insiders point of view of the way businessmen in Japan think, and how big companies go about making their decisions, so that you can understand what actually happens 'on the end of the field'.
Most foreign businesses and companies never really manage to start a business in Japan (and even if they do, they only manage to enter the market through a common distributor) mainly because of the one and only misconception that has been doing the rounds, and has been fueled by certain infamous myths about doing business in Japan.
Dealing with the business culture in Japan is somehow extremely risky. Luckily, their culture does not pose as an impenetrable obstacle to doing successful business in the country, and this can be proven by the fairly large Japanese market share that is enjoyed by companies like BMW, Chanel, Yahoo!, Louis Vuitton, Mercedes-Benz, Tiffany & Co., and so on.
However, the culture is very different when compared to the European or US one, but these differences don't necessarily make it more risky to start a business in Japan, than anywhere else in the world.
In truth, there are certain parts of the culture in Japan, especially the very concrete and stable long-term relationships, that are a direct result of the conservative Japanese faithfulness and sense of loyalty to partners.
This can be extremely beneficial for those companies that know how to swim along with the cultural tide, instead of merely struggling to stay astride.

What Makes them Different from Us?

The difference between Japan and most of the other countries can be explained. For instance, from the very moment that you arrive at the airport, you will notice the row of well-behaved baggage carriers diligently lining up your baggage on the conveyor belt, the well-mannered and polite customs inspectors.
Also notice, the cleaners making sure the place is clean, the young girl standing on the platform politely bowing to you whilst you board your train, the ticket inspector standing in the front politely removing his hat and bowing to everyone.
You'll get the same reception when you arrive at a hotel―the bell-boy will bow and then open the door for you, the porter will show you what buttons to press beside your bed―all of this because you are the customer, you are the king. Likewise, when you enter a Japanese bar or a store, you will probably be greeted by cries of 'irrashaimase', which means welcome and on leaving you will hear shouts of 'domo arigato gozaimashita', which means thank you.
The noticeable difference is that the people here are all extremely service-oriented and you probably know by now that service is the backbone of their business ethics. In Europe and the United States, service is something that people are required to pay for. But, in Japan, service is just a part of the whole business, there is no need for tipping.
So, most foreign companies confuse this service aspect of Japan's business culture as just a part of the social culture. Yes, I do agree that the Japanese are known to be polite, but in all instances mentioned above, the people were just doing their jobs―and the biggest part of their job is to keep you happy, which is equivalent to good customer service.
Unfortunately, most of these foreign companies who plan on starting up a business for the first time in Japan don't even recognize these differences that I have mentioned above―mainly because they feel that when they are traveling they are not on duty―and so according to them their first encounter with the culture would be when they arrive at the Japanese distributor's or customers office for the first meeting.