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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, shake hands or bow to business associates, 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 business discussions are formal. Silence is appreciated, as it shows active listening and reflection.

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 may be accepted in some instances. 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 entertainment 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 rebuilt itself and became an economic powerhouse in 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.

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 years that followed, the economy stagnated.

Since 2013, Japan has enjoyed increased prosperity under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose economic policies (nicknamed Abenomics) revolve around flexible fiscal policy, loose monetary policy and various structural reforms. However, Japan's sizable public debt continues to threaten its domestic reforms and growth potential.

GDP

US$5.08 trillion (2019).

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 may choose to avoid roaming charges by using Wi-Fi only. Visitors can also hire handsets at the airport from companies such as NTT DoCoMo (www.nttdocomo.co.jp), and Softbank (www.softbank-rental.jp).

Internet

Wi-Fi is widely available throughout Japan and is free in many hotels and cafés, while major cities and airports also provide hotspots.

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, including The Asahi Shimbun (www.asahi.com), Japan Times (www.japantimes.co.jp) and Japan Today (japantoday.com) .

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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