How to Conduct a Business Meeting in Japan

Business cards are necessary at a Japanese business meeting.
Business cards are necessary at a Japanese business meeting. (Image: business card holder image by Brett Mulcahy from

Business in Japan may require more patience than business in other countries, and the Japanese society has rules and specific phrases for almost every situation. Although that should make a business meeting easy, getting the nuances right requires the same level of knowledge of the language and culture as a native speaker. Sending the wrong signals will make the Japanese uncomfortable, even if they tend to be forgiving towards foreigners. But getting the first meeting right will help create a long-term relationship.

Things You'll Need

  • Business cards.
  • Introductory materials from your company, preferably in Japanese.
  • Printouts of your presentation in Japanese.

When you meet your counterparts, bow. The Japanese do not shake hands, other than when Westerners would give each other a hug. They might make an exception for business meetings. Wait for the Japanese businessman to offer his hand. Introduce your colleagues by title and function as well as name.

Sit at the meeting table opposite from your hosts. Seat your delegation in reasonable order of rank. If you're the head of the delegation, take the best seat. In Japan, that is the one farthest from the door. If you are using an interpreter, make sure he or she (usually she) sits next to you.

Exchange business cards with all the other participants in the meeting. If you are head of the delegation, you will be expected to start. Do it like this: Face the person with whom you are exchanging cards. Hold your card with both hands. If you have Japanese cards, have the Japanese side up. Bow. Introduce yourself--say your name and your company. Thank the person for meeting with you. Hand over your business card. Listen carefully to the introduction by the person whose business card you are receiving. Take the card with both hands and look at it. Move on to the next person. Don't write on the cards and don't put them in your pocket, but keep them on the table in front of you.

Thank your hosts for agreeing to meet with you. Hand out your presentation material. Japanese businessmen usually appreciate if you send the material in advance, if possible.

Speak slowly and clearly (but do not exaggerate) in your presentation. By handing out material in advance, the Japanese can follow the presentation as you speak. If you are using an interpreter, make make pauses to enable complete translation.

Tell your hosts that you can take questions during the presentation, if that is the case. Don't be surprised if the Japanese do not say anything. They may not want to embarrass you with questions, or they might wait for their superior to ask questions first.

(Image: conference table image by Salem Alforaih from

Tips & Warnings

  • Order business cards with Japanese text.
  • Dress smartly (and conservatively if you are a woman).
  • Send Japanese translations of your presentation a day or two in advance.
  • Contact your counterparts before the meeting to agree the agenda. This may involve a phone meeting, but can be negotiated by your local contact.
  • Do not be too direct. Japanese understand that foreigners are direct, but prefer not to be direct themselves.
  • Never blow your nose in front of Japanese businessmen.
  • Never kiss anybody as a greeting. If you are a man, they will be incredibly embarrassed.
  • Do not throw things at other people. Hand them over respectfully.
  • Don't be surprised if a member of the delegation falls asleep during the presentation. Typically, this is a senior delegation member who is there to show his support, not to actually hear what you are saying.

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