Be Aware of Cultural Differences to Get Ahead in Business

At Corbett, Duncan & Hubly we work with privately held organizations all around the globe on a regular basis. Because of that, it is important that we are aware of cultural differences in business etiquette. One of our strongest markets is our Japanese market. By demonstrating a small knowledge of Japanese culture and traditions, it shows that you have a genuine interest in the success of the meeting. If nothing else, your friends and colleagues will also be impressed!

Here are a few tips for proper Japanese business etiquette to help you survive a meal or interaction from start to finish.

Japanese Etiquette for Receiving Business Cards:
Even the exchanging of business cards follows a protocol in Japan. Japanese business cards are treated with utmost respect. If conducting business, carry your cards in a nice case so that you don’t hand your counterpart a frayed and butt-warmed card out of your wallet. The quality and condition of your business card speaks much about how you intend to conduct yourself and business.

When receiving a business card, thank the other person and offer a quick bow. Take the card with both hands and hold it by the top two corners; examine it closely with respect. Avoid covering the person’s name on the card with your fingers.

If cards are exchanged while already seated, place the card atop your case until you leave the table. Attention is even given to the order that cards are placed on the table. Put the highest ranking person’s card on your case so that it is higher, with the subordinates’ cards beside it on the table. The worst thing that you can possibly do in Japanese business etiquette is to cram someone’s business card into a back pocket or wallet in front of them!

Things to Avoid in Japanese Business Etiquette
• Keep your hands out of your pockets while speaking to someone.
• Being invited to someone’s home is a great honor. If one of your hosts extends an invitation, accept wholeheartedly.
• Unlike in China, where people openly clear their noses onto the street, blowing your nose in public is generally frowned upon in Japanese etiquette. Excuse yourself to the toilet or go outside to clear your nose. Sniffling to avoid blowing the nose actually is acceptable.
• Avoid pointing at people with a finger to make a point. Pointing, whether with fingers or chopsticks, is considered especially rude in Japan.
• The numbers “4” and “9” are considered unlucky in Japanese culture. The word for four is the same as the word for death, while the word for nine can mean suffering. Avoid giving gifts or anything else in sets of four or nine.
• Many rules of Japanese business etiquette follow the rules of saving face. Avoid causing someone to “lose face” by pointing out their mistakes or shortcomings in front of others.
• Tipping is not customary in Japan, and is sometimes considered rude.

For more information on Japanese Business Etiquette, visit:

Jun Okubo

As Principal of ESG, I lead a vibrant team that assists entrepreneurs with all of their accounting and IT needs.
This entry was posted in Business Development, Core Values, Finance & Accounting, International Business, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.