Japanese people are often considered to be disciplined and polite in all kinds of situations, including business meetings. In this article, you will learn the most essential rules and etiquette which should be followed at internal and external business meetings.

The rules and etiquette will be divided into three sections: the ones that can be applied at internal meetings, external meetings, and common rules used at both meeting types. If you follow them, not only will you be able to avoid growing irritation from your Japanese colleagues, but you may also significantly improve your reputation.

Rules and Etiquette for internal meetings

Share your presentation via email in advance

Most Japanese workers want to be well-prepared in order to feel more comfortable in meetings and to avoid embarrassment or mistakes in front of others. Therefore, it would be a good idea to share your presentation with all the participants in advance, ideally a couple of days beforehand.

Invite people who are partially involved as well

Japanese tend to invite all the people who are involved or will potentially be involved in the topic of the meeting in the future, even if those participants are not decision-makers at this point in time. Therefore, some participants don’t express their opinion at all during the meeting. This is because the level of involvement is quite low, and they have no opinion on the topic. You may think now, “why do they participate in the first place?”, or “It’s just a waste of time!”. The purpose of inviting those people is to share basic information on the topic, to show a general picture, and no more than that.

It is not common in Europe, and the Japanese inviting style can be regarded as inefficient. Nevertheless, our recommendation is to invite all the people potentially involved in the topic, at least as optional participants.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Make small talk

Japanese people like small talk so don’t forget to make small talk before or after the meeting. However, there are some circumstances to take into consideration. If there are many participants, try to avoid focusing on one person in front of everyone else. Make small talk if all the participants know each other very well, or the number of participants is under five.

Take minutes of the meeting

If you are new in the company, take minutes proactively and share them with all the participants via email afterward. The key points for the minutes are 5W1H (i.e. Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How), and comments of the managers. If a project was the main topic of the meeting, summarize who does what, by when, and how. It will speed up the progress of the project. Noting the manager’s comment is also important because it usually shows the direction of the project.

Rules and Etiquette for external meetings

Now let’s focus on meetings with your clients or people outside your company.

Exchange business cards

It is very common for Japanese workers to exchange business cards before a meeting with new clients. So, don’t forget to bring your business cards. If you receive them from your clients, you can put them on the desk, which will enable you to check your clients’ names if necessary. This is how Japanese people place the business cards during a business meeting.

where to put business cards

Prepare a seating plan

When you visit your customer with your boss, let your boss sit on the furthest chair from the entrance door. In principle, your clients should guide you where to sit, which is often on the other side from the entrance.
Please see the picture below. In this room, because you are the guest, you should sit on 1 or 2, both of which are called Kamiza. Seating 1 is the Kamiza of Kamiza as it is further from the entrance than 2.

Common Rules and Etiquette for both meeting types

Be aware that there are good and bad time frames.
In case you live in Europe and other participants live in Japan, don’t forget about the time difference. Usually, the difference is 8 hours (7h in summer), so 9:00 in Germany means it’s 17:00 in Japan.
Even if you know that Japanese people are ready to work until late evening, you should set up a meeting before 17:00 Japan time (9:00 German time).

This means Japanese colleagues often set up meetings with HQ in Japan in the green time frame (8:00 – 11:00) as shown in the picture above. Therefore, it will be regarded as considerate if you avoid setting up other meetings in the morning. Even if your Japanese colleagues don’t have any meetings in the green frame, they might have to write emails or call their colleagues in Japan while they are still working so that they can receive a quick reply.

Ask for opinions proactively

Even on business occasions, Japanese people are reluctant to share their opinions without being asked as they prioritize good harmony in the workplace. However, people who can recognize that others have questions and ask them directly “do you have questions/any opinion on this?”, are liked very much.

Always soften what you say

Japanese people tend to sugarcoat what they say in comparison with Europeans. Please see some examples below:

  • Bad example: I don’t think so. Taking the client’s preferences into account, our price offer should be lower.
  • Good example: I understand your point but in my experience with this client, we should offer a lower price.
  • Bad example: This is not true because the customer acquired its competitor and their product range was expanded. They can offer a combi-offer to retailers.
  • Good example: I agree with you. However, I’d like to emphasize that the customer acquired its competitor and….

The key point is to show understanding to the interlocutor; to agree first with your interlocutor and then tell your opinion, and not to disagree with your interlocutor’s opinion directly.