Learning About Business Etiquette in Japan

On Friday, Michiko Yamashima gave a presentation on Japanese business etiquette. Around thirty people attended, with many of those being students who planned on working in Japan.

Yamashima began her presentation with an overview of Japanese demographics and government. She then moved on to cultural norms, such as the Japanese emphasis on courtesy and respect.

Bowing was a major topic of discussion, and Yamashima brought up the fact that bows are often seen as a sign of subordination by the United States. To Japan, said Yamashima, a “bow is a gesture…showing respect and sincerity.” There are three levels of bows, with the deepest being for apologies and the least pronounced being a casual gesture. All bows are from the waist; nodding, Yamashima said, “is not a bow; this is neck exercise.” Other etiquette for bows includes the speed (slow is preferable to fast) and eye contact (at the beginning and end but not during a bow).

Yamashima covered other elements of Japanese business etiquette as well, such as the proper attire (dark suits with white shirts, and white socks are too casual) and the handling of business cards, which should be given and received with two hands. Respect for business cards is very important. “The business card is the person himself,” Yamashima said.

Most elements of Japanese business etiquette emphasize humility and respect. A junior employee should seat himself near the door of a tatami room and in the least comfortable position in a car. A junior employee should also use humble expressions when describing himself and his company, but may use honorific expressions when describing his superior or his client.

Miscellaneous items covered were Japanese resumes (should include age, business picture and dates in the Japanese era), compulsive retirement in Japan, and rules for serving alcohol (females should serve males, and junior employees should serve seniors before seniors serve them).

This is Career Services’ third year hosting the Japanese business etiquette seminar, and even for those not considering jobs in Japan, it proved a fascinating topic.