Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan

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Japanese culture has greatly evolved through the millennia, from its ancient Jomon period, to its modern hybrid culture, which is the product of influences from North America, Asia and Europe. Ancient Japanese people also experienced long period of discrimination from foreign countries during the Tokugawa shogunate, until the Meiji Period and the arrival of “The Black Ships”.

Tips on greeting. Japanese people always revere and honor the oldest person in the group. In social occasions, drinks will be poured for them and he/she will be served first.  Their greetings are ritualized and very formal.  It is a must for them to show deference and bountiful amount of respect to anyone whose status is relative to their own. If possible also, don’t introduce yourself immediately in large or even small gatherings as it seems impolite to them. Always wait to be introduced and be recognized by others. Western people shake hands as a traditional form of greeting however, Japanese people don’t. Their conventional form of greeting is the bow. The depth of your bow reflects your relationship with that person and the situation. If the bow is deeper, more respect is shown. They normally address a person with their surname regardless of their marital status or their sex. The suffix “san” is also used to show honor and gratitude.  When addressing professional bodies such as lawyers, professors and doctors, do not use “san” but instead use “sensei”. It sounds more polite to use the latter than the former.

Giving of business cards. Invest in high quality business cards. Always keep them in perfect condition as exchanging of business cards is a great ceremony for the Japanese. The contents of your business card and its condition reflect what type of person you are. During meetings, put your business cards on the table in the order of how the people seated in front of you. Be sure to have a portfolio or a business card to place the business cards in there once the meeting is over.

Acceptable and not acceptable topics in a Japanese conversation.  Personal topics such as hobbies, home regions, favorites and family background are acceptable but limited. Deal with topics that are general and always praise the hospitality of your host. Do not include in your conversation the physical appearance and the ethnical minorities of the host as it seem impolite to them. Also never mention their beliefs and religion, the world history, their work background and anything about Korea and the World War 2.

Japanese Non-Verbal Communication.  The silent environment during meetings is normal for them. Never interrupt it. When listening to the speaker, especially if he is speaking English, always nod to show your interest and eagerness in understanding the speaker’s discussion. Japanese people often trust non- verbal communication than spoken words as the latter can have lots of meanings. Do not stare into the eye of the person who is a senior to you in age or in status as it is considerably not formal to them. Frowning is also a meaningful sign of disagreement to the discussion. If you want to know more on how to interpret Japanese non- verbal communications, you can purchase a book called ‘gaijins’ exclusively made by the Japanese for foreigners to show how vital non- verbal communication is to them.

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