How to successfully cooperate with Japanese business partners and employees

In almost no other country, the compliance with the protocol and formal business etiquette is not as important as in Japan. The constant pursuit of harmony and indirect expression cause that the Japanese “hai” is still far from the approval and is often associated with denial. Therefore, when doing business with Japan, the principle: “The bypass is the shortest route” is often used. Both patience and intercultural sensitivity are required during negotiations and for the preparation of joint project applications. One of the elements, to which you have to pay special attention, is your approach to business partners and building relationships with them.

Relationships, relationships and, once again, relationships

Japan is a country oriented towards building relationships, so the care over you as business guest they treat as an opportunity to establish relationships and get to know you. When being hosted in your own country, the Asian contractor will require the same level of attention as what is waiting for you in Japan. If it turns out that you have not been treated in Japan according to the protocol applicable there, it may indicate that the relationships are distorted and you’re far away from establishing an understanding, or that the Japanese delegation has not been properly treated in the host country, which they express in this way.

What to pay attention to and what to avoid?

First of all, remember to pick up your customers and business partners from the airport. Only if your contractor visits you regularly, and you already have managed to build a solid and partner-like relationship, you can suggest and give them the plan showing how they can reach the hotel.

When receiving the delegation of Japanese culture representatives, you should also take care of daily transport both from and to the hotel, and make sure that the hotel room is equipped with a bathtub. The Japanese make use of the opportunity that their country is located on numerous volcanoes and take a daily bath in one of the local onsens, i.e. in special baths, where they relax and analyse the day. The meetings in onsens are primarily aimed to relax, but sometimes they also provide an opportunity to summarize the work day and discuss the next steps. Thus, taking the passion for hot water into consideration, a bathroom equipped with a shower may be an insufficient substitute, in which our business partner will not feel comfortable.

Agenda, that is careful time planning

It is essential to plan the visit of the Japanese delegation and precede it with the consultations of its course with the Japanese side. Planning should take place on the basis of an agenda, which has to include both evening and weekend activities. A detailed agenda prepared in such a way will make a good impression on our Japanese business partner, so it is worth to focus on details, as well as separate and describe each time frame, e.g.: dinner: from 20:00 to 22:00.

All meetings should be carefully planned. If there is such a possibility, you should offer your guests a guided tour around the company – however, bear in mind that the Japanese will pay a lot of attention to details and will take a deep look at the improved processes, but they will also record the shortcomings. You should inform your colleagues about the fact that the company will host a delegation from Japan, since the guests from this country require special courtesy. It will be well perceived if the partners from Japan will be welcomed by company representatives, the management or the board.

Establishing relationships informally, that is the passion for food

The Japanese like regional and seasonal dishes, hence you should share with the members of the delegation the information about the specialities of the cuisine and special circumstances associated with individual dishes, for example, it will be a curiosity that the asparagus that’s served on your plates is harvested only in the spring. The Japanese like to experiment with food. For this reason, they would appreciate the possibility to take part in local events, where they can taste local meals and drinks. They will also be happy to visit breweries or wine bars.

Before ordering, you have to ask our guests whether fish or meat should be served. Remember that European dishes are usually too salty for the Japanese, so when ordering, ask to season them mildly. The order must be placed by the host, who orders for everyone present. Explaining the items on the menu usually turns out to be a very arduous undertaking which – as my experience has shown – doesn’t lead to intended results.

Planning free time

If the delegation from Japan is going to spend the weekend in our country, make sure it will be full of attractions, and your Japanese business partners will be accompanied and under the care of the host. Joint trips to historical places, important for the country will be warmly welcomed. There, in turn, you should arrange for a tour and, if possible, offer a Japanese-speaking guide.

Please remember that Japanese courtesy will not allow to accept your invitation at first, be patient and repeat the invitation for a weekend trip together a few times.


According to the savoir vivre of the Japanese culture, its members are obliged to bring from the trip small gifts for their workmates and family members. Such behaviour has its historical justification and is therefore an absolute necessity. That’s why you should find out what products our Japanese business partners are interested in and then accompany them in the search for the right gifts. Due to the fact that European brands are much more expensive in Japan, it may turn out that the members of the delegation will want to visit the boutiques of well-known designers.

In addition to what has been mentioned above, the Japanese will also be happy with a private invitation to your home. However, you should not expect the same in return – the meeting of this type are not traditionally organized in Japan.

It’s important to focus on the attendees of the meeting in the first place, therefore, while appreciating the individuality and uniqueness of each of them, it is worth to show great flexibility. “Ganbarao“, that is good luck!

Barbara Bartczak