Japan is a country with a rich and unique culture that has developed over thousands of years. Business culture in Japan is no exception, and building strong business relationships, or “kizuna,” is highly valued. Networking is an essential part of doing business in Japan, and understanding the art of networking can be critical to success in the Japanese market. In this article, we’ll explore the art of networking in Japan and provide tips for building strong business relationships.
Understanding the Culture
Before diving into networking in Japan, it’s essential to understand the country’s culture. Japan is a country that places a high value on respect, humility, and harmony. In business, this translates into a focus on building relationships and trust with business partners. Unlike in some Western cultures, where business relationships can be more transactional, in Japan, relationships are long-term and built on trust.
In Japan, business networking is often done through introductions, or “jikoshoukai,” which means self-introduction. Jikoshoukai is the Japanese way of building relationships and involves introducing oneself, one’s company, and one’s background in a way that creates trust and rapport. It’s a way to build a connection with someone and shows that you’re trustworthy and reliable.
One way of showing this is not to go ‘too strong’ too early, and ease into the details. For example, in your intro, it might be very easy to rattle off your elevator pitch, right off the bat. But bear with me here, it’s much more respectful to spend time building up to the pitch. The art of building relationships, and even in the self-introduction is a slow gradual process.
Building Strong Relationships
When building strong business relationships in Japan, it is crucial to be patient and invest time in getting to know your counterparts. Networking events in Japan tend to be more formal than in the West, and it is essential to dress appropriately and behave respectfully at all times.
During networking events, business cards, or “meishi,” are often exchanged, and they are seen as a representation of oneself and the company. When receiving a business card, it is important to take a moment to study it carefully as a sign of respect. Offering your own business card, which should be clean, uncreased, and in good condition, is also customary. To show additional respect, it is common practice for global companies to provide a Japanese translation on the back.
During the COVID pandemic, business cards took a backseat as online meetings and networking events became the norm. However, with things returning to normal, in-person networking events are starting to make a comeback, making physical business cards relevant once again.
Networking in Japan also often involves drinking and dining, with the concept of “nomunication” being a popular social interaction method. “Nomunication” is a play on words that combines “nomu” (to drink) and “communication” and serves as the country’s social lubricant, making it easier for people to break the ice and discuss personal topics.
However, it is important to be mindful of drinking customs in Japan. While it is common for business partners to drink together as a way to build rapport, it is important not to overindulge or get too drunk.
In Japan, communication is often indirect and heavily relies on nonverbal cues. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the tone and context of conversations, as well as the body language of your counterparts. In stark comparison to English, silence is also an essential part of Japanese communication. For instance, it is not uncommon for there to be long pauses in conversation.
When communicating in Japan, it is essential to be respectful and avoid confrontation or conflict. Harmony is highly valued in Japanese culture, and it is important to maintain a positive and respectful tone at all times.
Even in English, it is common to use honorifics such as “san” when referring to people in Japan. As a freelance trainer and executive coach, my Japanese students and coachees commonly referred to me as “Matto-san,” even after I told them to call me “Matt” many times. This demonstrates the idea of being polite to someone “in authority,” which is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and shows a great deal of respect.
The Japanese Language (barrier)
Another crucial aspect of effective communication in Japan is not only learning the language but also being proficient in the various formality levels and nuances of the language. Japan has a complex honorific language system that includes different levels of politeness, which can greatly impact the success of your business interactions.
Learning the Japanese language is essential to understanding and navigating these nuances. It not only helps you communicate more effectively but also shows that you respect and value the culture of your Japanese counterparts.
Additionally, learning the language goes a long way in being aware of various idiosyncrasies and building on the foundations of cultural elements in both life and business. It can help you understand the nuances of Japanese culture, such as the importance of hierarchy, the emphasis on harmony, and the significance of gift-giving and exchanging business cards.
By investing time and effort in learning the Japanese language and culture, you can build stronger business relationships and create opportunities for growth and success. Ultimately, it shows that you are committed to understanding and embracing the unique aspects of Japanese culture and that you are a respectful and valued business partner.
Understanding the decision-making process
Nemawashi is a Japanese business practice that involves laying the groundwork for a decision by consulting with all relevant parties and seeking their agreement before formally presenting the decision to a larger group or organization. The term “nemawashi” literally means “preparing the roots,” and the concept is often compared to the process of gently loosening the soil around the roots of a tree before transplanting it to a new location.
In practical terms, nemawashi typically involves a series of informal meetings and discussions with key stakeholders and decision-makers. These discussions may take place over several weeks or even months, and the goal is to build consensus and establish a sense of trust and shared purpose among all parties involved. During these discussions, concerns and objections are raised, and possible solutions are explored until a consensus is reached.
Once a decision has been reached through the nemawashi process, it is presented to the larger group or organization for formal approval. Since all relevant parties have already been consulted and their concerns have been addressed during the nemawashi process, the decision is typically approved quickly and with minimal resistance.
Nemawashi is a crucial element of Japanese business culture and is widely practiced across established corporations and industries. By engaging in nemawashi, Japanese businesspeople prioritize harmony and cooperation, recognizing that it may take time to reach a decision that satisfies all stakeholders. As a result, exhibiting patience is crucial, particularly when dealing with high-value or high-risk decisions.
In conclusion, understanding the art of networking in Japan is crucial to building strong business relationships and succeeding in the Japanese market.
To effectively network in Japan, it is important to first understand the country’s culture, which places a high value on respect, humility, and harmony. Building trust and rapport with business partners is a long-term process, and patience and investment of time are necessary.
Communication in Japan is often indirect and heavily relies on nonverbal cues, and learning the language and being proficient in the various formality levels and nuances is essential.
Additionally, understanding the decision-making process in Japan, such as the practice of nemawashi, is crucial to achieving success in the Japanese market.
By embracing and respecting the unique aspects of Japanese culture, one can create opportunities for growth and success and become a valued business partner in Japan.