Starting a business venture in Japan means you need to understand the local business culture. From meeting etiquette to a selection of choice business phrases, the more you learn beforehand, the easier it will be to make a success of your Japanese business.
With that in mind, we’ve selected five key cultural and language tips to help you enter the Japanese market smoothly.
1. Learn the language
Ok, so we’re not suggesting you have to learn to speak Japanese fluently in order to open a business in Japan (though if you’re up for a challenge, it can certainly help). After all, the US Foreign Service Institute reports that it takes 2,200 hours for an English speaker to become fluent in Japanese. That equates to over six years of study if you spend an hour a day learning Japanese, or well over eight years if you want weekends off.
What we are suggesting is that you pick up a few choice phrases that you can use to show good manners and good intent to your Japanese counterparts. Some basic phrases to get you started include:
2. Find an accurate Japanese translator
While a few phrases scattered into the conversation in Japanese will show that you are making an effort with the language, you’ll also need to use Japanese translation services to support your business ventures and projects in Japan. Using professional Japanese translation means that everything from business emails to legal contracts can be word perfect. This will help to ensure clarity of understanding between you and your Japanese contacts, while also demonstrating your commitment to doing everything properly.
What is the most accurate Japanese translator? For business documents, it’s always good to use a professional Japanese translator who has plenty of experience of the business world. Japanese English translation services are widely available online via machine translation, but the nuances of the language can be lost during this computerised process. As such a human Japanese translator is usually the better option when it comes to representing your business in Japan.
Bear in mind that using Japanese translation services with varied expertise can be useful here. A single pro Japanese translator may not have the breadth of experience that you need when it comes to providing a Japanese document translation service that covers marketing materials, financial documents, legal papers and more.
How much does it cost to hire a translator in Japan? It’s best to allow around $0.10 per word on average. With everything from your website to your social media posts to translate, your eyes may be watering as you calculate the cost of the English Japanese translation services you need. However, there are ways you can keep your costs low. Booking translation well in advance will save you money compared to using an expedited last minute service, for example. You could also look into using machine translation with post editing for certain documents. That combines the speed and low cost of machine translation with the skill of human input, so is often a good option when money is tight.
3. Be organised
When it comes to face-to-face meetings in Japan, you need to be organised. Print dual language business cards in advance (again, your English to Japanese translation service will come in handy here), along with any papers that you may need for the meeting. It is polite to give any papers to all those present, so find out numbers in advance and check if printed papers will be expected. If they are, translate and present them beautifully.
Being organised also means arriving early for every meeting. Get there at least 10 minutes early to show an appropriate level of respect and don’t even think about being late. Ever.
4. Dress the part
Business attire differs significantly from country to country and also between industries. In Japan, business dress is still largely conservative, so be sure to stock up on suits in a range of sombre shades. Dark colours are the safest choices for suits, as well as for winter coats. Note that you should remove any outwear before entering the office, though the expectation is that you will keep your suit jacket on in meetings, unless the weather is particularly warm.
More casual business attire (even your very smartest pair of jeans) is best left at home. It won’t make the right impression.
5. Understand food etiquette
As it does in so many cultures, food plays an important role in the Japanese business world. As such, you need to do your homework before you travel to Japan. Refusing a drink or snack that’s offered in a meeting, for example, even with a polite ‘no thank you’ can cause offence. It’s better to accept the offering and simply leave it on the table.
If you’re having a business lunch, learn to use chopsticks in advance. Make sure you’re hungry when you arrive, as well, as it’s not polite to waste food by leaving it on your plate. And always wait for the most important guest at the table to start eating their food first. Patience is a virtue when it comes to dining in Japan.
Getting your business ready for Japan
Preparing to launch a business venture in Japan is a major undertaking, so organise everything you need well in advance, from finding English to Japanese translation services to buying small, appropriate gifts for all those you plan to dine with (gift-giving in Japan is a whole topic in itself, so do your research before your trip!).
The OECD expects Japan’s economy to grow by 1.8% in 2023 and by 0.9% in 2024. If your business is ready to be part of that growth, it’s time to take on board the above tips.