Networking in Japan: Strategies, Tips, Best Practices
Starting a business in Japan? Or perhaps you're here for work and you're wondering how Japanese business owners and executives network in Japan?
We cover what you ought to know about Japanese business culture, effective strategies for networking here, and other good-to-know tips that will help you start off on the right foot.
Understanding Japanese business culture
Japanese organizations value consensus building, which can be trying for Westerners, who are often more used to quick decision-making.
Japanese corporate culture prioritizes a company's success as a group to be more important than any individual. A strong sense of belongingness reflects in business networking as well.
Introductions in Japan are ritualized, and networking as a whole focuses more often on organizational business relationships than individual business relationships.
Keep the following in mind when meeting a Japanese client or business partner for the first time.
1. Indirect introduction
Self-introductions and self-promotions in Japanese business can often be out of place and unsuccessful. Generally, it’s considered too sudden, too close, and too intrusive in Japanese business culture.
Japanese business culture is comparatively traditional and ordered; Westerners must adjust to this to establish a successful business presence in Japan. In Japan's more conservative culture, we appreciate knowing the person before starting to do business.
Successful introductions are carefully and tactically planned through a selected third party and are usually to be conducted at informal gatherings and social events.
2. First face-to-face meeting
The first face-to-face meeting with a Japanese client or business partner should follow meeting protocol. Japanese employees greet each other with a bow held longer for those of senior rank.
Don’t hold eye contact during the bow. When you address the person, you can add “san” to the person’s last name. “San” can be used for both men and women. "San" can be used for a friend as well. "Sama" is more formal and generally used for customers.
3. Business card exchange
In Japanese business culture, the exchange of business cards carries a ritualistic symbol. Meishi Kokan (business card exchange) forms the early and most formal order of business, and you will need to prepare many business cards if you plan to network in Japan.
Business cards need to be presented and received with two hands.
The letters on the card should be in the direction the receiver can read. The appropriate order begins with the senior officer and then the junior. The cards need to be placed in front of you on the table during the meeting with the company's senior person on top.
4. Dress code
In Japanese business culture, the company is more emphasized than the individual, and dressing conservatively when doing business in Japan shows your willingness to respect the company and work as part of the team.
Like financial service employees in the West, dress conservatively in a dark suit, shirt, and modest tie. In some situations, you may need to take off your shoes to enter a room, so you will need clean and conservative socks and shoes.
5. Gift-giving customs
In Japan giving corporate gifts is an important and respected part of the business culture.
Once your business relationship is formed, gifts from your home country or culture are well-received. However, it can be taken as insincerity if they are given too early in the relationship.
Effective strategies and tips for networking in Japan
Now that you have a basic understanding of Japanese culture, here are some tips and strategies for networking in Japan.
1. Individual networking online and offline
A recent trend in Japan is using online professional networking for career advancement and those searching for a job.
For instance, Meetup.com is a popular website event organizer that hosts various business-related and industry-specific events.
Networking events found on sites like Meetup.com offer more opportunities to meet like-minded new people, new friends, and professionals in your field than you would otherwise find on your own.
Online network websites are easy to access and especially popular among women to connect with companies and organizations. Some such networking sites are free to use, and some require membership fees.
Another notable group you can consider joining is InterNations, which organizes monthly events and other services.
Industry-related events or anything you are interested in are a great opportunity to meet and create new friendships with businesspeople from Japan and different parts of the world. Also, many local chambers of commerce offer events like business card exchange opportunities (Meishi Kokankai) for various industries, which can provide you with the opportunity to meet business leaders in your area.
General business professional networks
Marketing professional networks
2. Japanese greetings
Learning a few Japanese words will help to break the ice when meeting clients. Showing your knowledge of a few personal greetings can impress and show you spent time preparing for the meeting.
You can learn Japanese salutations using language apps or online research, then you can double-check your accents and pitch with Japanese colleagues. They will likely be impressed that you are devoting time to learning Japanese.
While language experts can help you improve your language skills, you can use an assistant service like MailMate to help support you in building business relationships based on Japanese culture and specific industry etiquette.
3. What to talk about when making small talk
When you exchange business cards and talk about work, Japanese businesspeople avoid discussing and asking about personal lives. So the talk often ends up brief and unmemorable. One tip here is to make your business card unique because people will pay close attention to your business card.
To make your business card unique, for example, you can add your name with kanji characters, they will ask questions about it. Katakana characters are phonetic alphabets, but you can select your favorite combination of meanings with specific kanji characters to show your motto, personality, and life mission.
Your business card can be a great tool to communicate and speak Japanese.
Over time, you can gradually get to know the person by asking more personal and family questions, such as inquiring about hobbies and interests.
4. Understanding nemawashi: building consensus at networking events
Building consensus, referred to as nemawashi, involves discussing and seeking input from all stakeholders to ensure that their concerns and perspectives are considered.
Nemawashi often takes place through informal meetings and discussions outside of official gatherings and is often how Japanese workers will use company networking events.
Aside from its practical benefits, nemawashi is also seen as a way of building relationships and maintaining harmony within an organization.
Listening skills are crucial for building a professional network in Japan. Work on active listening skills and smart questions to make the conversation more meaningful and insightful.
One piece of advice from Business Plus magazine is to listen with your eyes and make sure you're looking at the person as this not only builds a connection but trust as well.
Great presentation and speaking can impress the counterpart, but you won’t be able to realize and discuss what they’re after in their business goals with you.
You might feel the urge to speak and give your opinion to fill the void of silence. But you can build rapport faster by listening to the person—which will, in the long run, lead to nurturing trust and new friendships.