konichi wa?
March 3, 2012 2:15 AM   Subscribe

Japanesefilter: I will be working with Japanese business clients in Europe and would like to learn a few phrases and their etiquette!

Any useful phrases I should know/resources you could point me to/etiquette rules would be very helpful!

I'm not attempting to conduct business in japanese. I just want to be a little forthcoming and to leave a good impression. Thank you!
posted by bruinbruin to Human Relations (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Use both hands when giving and recieving business cards. Study up on business card in general etiquette as it's very important to Japanese.
posted by dydecker at 2:39 AM on March 3, 2012

Also if you end up drinking with your clients, pour their drinks for them. In Japan people pour each other's drinks.
posted by dydecker at 2:42 AM on March 3, 2012

The first thing to remember is that your clients are people and professionals just like you.

Anyway, dydecker has 2 very good points. About the business card, to offer yours, you turn it so the writing faces the recipient, hold it by the two corners nearest you, and offer it to them. As a recipient, you should receive with two hands, and read it immediately. The more important the person who gave it to you, the longer you should pretend to read the card. Do not write on it, fold it, wipe your nose with it, or immediately stick it in your pocket. At a meeting, the received cards should be placed in front of you representing the seating arrangement of the table. A business card is like a piece of a person's soul, and should be treated as such.

Besides cards, I would add, that they will shake hands with you, not bow. The unspoken rule seems to be "shake hands with foreigners," so don't stress about how or when to bow because you will not be expected to do it.

Depending on the kind of meeting this is, keep in mind the differences in how we might say yes or no. The Japanese language and culture is known for being indirect, and you may listen for yeses-that-could-be-noes or hesitation-that-means-no or yes-but-without-enthusiasm-actually-means-no. A no is often prefaced with an inhalation like sucking air between teeth, or a phrase like "mm, it'll be difficult...". Just keep in mind the right moment to stop pushing a decision. If your visitors have lived abroad, they may be much more forthcoming about their feelings.

Depending on where in Europe you are this could be a big or small issue: keep an eye on the schedule, both in time and agenda. Events and meetings in Japan generally run on time to-the-minute. We were often frustrated by meetings with our visiting French colleagues because the meetings would start late, run long, and achieve less than planned. At the same time, the French were considered to be very direct when they spoke. Go figure.

Phrases can be difficult, and in your situation I wouldn't want to come off like I assumed they didn't speak our common language well, or that I knew more than just a bare minimum. A couple good, easy to pronounce, easy to remember things for your dinner or coffee break may be:
- itadakimasu : said before eating: ee-ta-da-kee-mas (phonetic, the a sounds like más in Spanish)
- oishii : delicious! oh-ee-sheee!
- suki desu ka? : do you like it? skee dess ka?
You can get a good idea of the pronunciation from youtube's one minute Japanese on food, and there are a lot of other topics as well.
posted by whatzit at 5:04 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think phrases or business card etiquette is as important as cultural differences in actual communication.

Japanese people are much more likely (not always, but more likely) to be understated in their expression. If they say "I'm not sure about that..." it could really mean "No @#$%# way this side of eternity."

Of course, it could also just mean they aren't sure. :)

And Americans can be circumspect and understated too, so it's easy to get carried away with over-thinking these things. Just something to remember.

Also, something that it took me a while to figure out when I came to Japan: Japanese people are often not very willing to make direct requests. So, they'll phrase a request for themselves as an offer to you. Instead of "I'm hungry. Can we break for lunch", they'll often say "Are you hungry? Do you want lunch?" But it's just a request veiled as a question.
posted by zachawry at 5:46 AM on March 3, 2012

Depending on how long they've been in Europe/working in English-speaking environments, I would expect some amount of dead air if you're asking them questions directly. It can take more time to parse a question and respond in a second language, even when they understand what you're asking. When I was involved in telephone conferences (from the Japanese side), there was a lot of time which from the European side may well have felt kind of awkward. But once I got involved more I could help by translating, and then the responses came quite a bit more quickly.
posted by that girl at 1:13 AM on March 4, 2012

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