Doing Business in Japan

Japan is a bit of anomaly, being not part of the Western world but being on an economic par with most Western countries, not only in terms of Global Domestic Product but also in levels of individual prosperity.   Japan is not an emerging market – it emerged a long time ago – but it finds itself surrounded by some of the world’s largest emerging markets and as a result is finding its position as Asia’s leading economy under threat.  China and India continue their relentless economic rise and South Korea has become the predominant cultural influence in the region.

So what is the future for Japan?  It is still the home of some of the world’s largest corporations and boasts a whole range of globally recognised and respected brands – from Toyota to Nintendo – and has business links in every corner of the world.  Can Japan maintain its influence and position as one of the world’s true economic superpowers or will its influence and prosperity wane over the coming decades?  The answer to the question lies with the Japanese and their ability to adapt and more effectively co-operate on a global stage.  Until now, however, adaptation and change are not words which have sat easily in the Japanese mindset.

Japan remains stubbornly Japanese and many business visitors will observe that Japan is like no other business destination.  In India, you may be assailed by the crowds and the noise, in Nigeria you will be faced with bureaucratic and potential corruption issues but in Japan you are faced by the fact that it is just very different.  The infrastructure works, the hotels are great, the food is now commonly eaten around the world but the approach to business is – just very different.

Old Japanese rules of business engagement are still the norm in all reasonably-sized Japanese organisations and without a knowledge of how things work in Japan, you will undoubtedly struggle. In a country where face and hierarchy are of paramount importance and where the importance of long-term relationships are of far greater value than any specific business opportunity you may be keen to push through but things take time.  Patience is a virtue and the ability to remain calm and hide any frustrations is paramount.

Things may well change in Japan but at the moment, Japan is still Japan and it is important – if you are dealing with the Japanese –to have a really good understanding of how the Japanese think and operate.  Trying to do things your own way and assuming that the Japanese will ‘understand where I am coming from’ invariably fails.  Do you homework on Japanese business culture and then do some more.

This country profile is a starting point to understanding some of the key concepts you will need to factor into your dealings with any Japanese counterparts – but it is only a starting point.  When you have read this profile, why not purchase one of the books suggested on the Japan pages or, better still, contact to discuss corporate training and development on this topic.