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Japan: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Japan

Manners are very important for business negotiations in Japan. While you'll be forgiven for not getting everything right, you'll be expected to wear a smart suit, exchange business cards using both hands with everyone you meet, and to be polite and punctual.

A large supply of business cards printed in English and Japanese is essential. Cards should have Japanese translation on the reverse side. Appointments should be made in advance and, because of the formality, visits should consist of more than a few days. Business discussions are often preceded by tea and general small talk and are usually very formal.

It is usual to refer to colleagues by their surnames, and hierarchies should be respected. Business negotiations may require patience as directness is disliked; thus straight 'yes' or 'no' answers are generally avoided. However, this depends on the region where you are doing business – in Osaka, for example, being more direct is less problematic. Impatience is frowned upon, and confrontation is out of the question, as it is considered a sign of gross weakness. Apologies and thanks are very important and should not be rushed.

Corporate entertaining usually takes place in restaurants and izakaya (drinking halls similar to pubs). Drinking (beer, whisky and sake) is very much part of the culture, as is smoking. Gifts, especially those from your home country, are very important (they need not be particularly large or lavish) and are exchanged with great ceremony.

You'll often need to remove your shoes indoors: look out for lines of shoes or slippers for clues. Avoid putting your foot on the ground while changing from your shoes to any slippers provided. Make sure that you are wearing clean socks.

Office Hours

Mon-Fri 0900-1700. Some offices are open Sat 0900-1200.

Economy

After suffering massive destruction during WW2, Japan was the economic phenomenon of the late 20th century. The structure of the Japanese domestic economy revolves around a group of large multi-product corporations (many of which are global household names), linked in loose alliances with banks and finance houses. Agriculture now accounts for less than 2% of the GDP.

The model worked superbly until the early 1990s when competition from abroad and excessive lending by the banks began to exert pressure. The extent of the problem became apparent with the 1991 property crash and, more spectacularly, the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

In the following years, the economy stagnated, remaining at 0% inflation for a few years. Unemployment, a comparative novelty in a country where jobs were typically guaranteed for life, reached 5.5%.

From 2003 to 2007, the Japanese economy enjoyed its strongest recovery since WW2. However, the global economic crisis of 2008 hit Japan hard. Unemployment crept up towards 5%, and Japan lost its status as the second-largest economy in the world to China.

Since 2015, Japan has enjoyed a relative healthy growth rate and is currently the third-largest economy in the world.

GDP

US$4.97 trillion (2018).

Main exports

Cars, machinery, computers, electronic devices, metals and chemicals.

Main imports

Raw materials, machinery, broadcasting equipment, fuel, medicaments, textiles and medical instruments.

Main trading partners

China, USA, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Keeping in Touch in Japan

Telephone

Credit cards can be used directly in some phone boxes, although public phones are becoming increasingly difficult to find and are most likely to be located near train stations. They are green and grey and accept coins and magnetic prepaid cards, available from convenience stores and vending machines.

Mobile Phone

Most modern phone handsets will work in Japan, but roaming charges can be steep - check with your service provider as some will offer reasonable data packages to cover your stay. If you have a smartphone, you can keep in touch using Wi-Fi only. Visitors can hire handsets at the airport from companies such as NTT DoCoMo (www.nttdocomo.co.jp), and Softbank (www.softbank-rental.jp). In the UK, phones can be rented in advance of travel from Adam Phones (www.adamphones.com). Coverage is generally good.

Internet

Wi-Fi is widely available throughout Japan and is free in many hotels and via hotspots in major cities and airports. Alternatively, there are many internet cafés located in Tokyo and other main cities. 

Media

Japan's national public broadcaster NHK (www.nhk.or.jp) operates several TV and radio channels, including Radio Japan and the global English language news channel NHK World. There are five commercial broadcasting networks. The press in Japan is free to criticise the government, although freelance journalists find access to information difficult. There are a few English-language daily newspapers published in Japan, The Japan News (https://the-japan-news.com), and the Asahi Shimbun (http://www.asahi.com/ajw). Japan Times (www.japantimes.co.jp) also publishes an English version.

Post Office hours

Mon-Fri 0900-1700 (1900 at bigger branches). Some main post offices are open 0900-1700 on Saturdays; 0900-1230 on Sundays. Some branches have an after-hours service window.

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