Following Japanese business customs makes it much easier to do business in what is the world's third largest economy.
Many Japanese business people still appreciate personal connections. It's therefore a good idea to ask a mutual acquaintance to introduce you to a potential business partner, rather than contacting the company cold.
Before any business meeting with a prospective Japanese partner, the American company should provide the other side with a written agenda of the meeting. The agenda enables the Japanese company to have a clear idea of what to expect and should go a long way in putting minds at ease.
Make sure that the agenda gets to those participating in the meeting early enough to allow them to prepare.
In Japan, the very first business meeting between two companies begins with a formal greeting and a highly ritualized exchange of business cards, called meishi. It's considered polite to receive the other person's meishi with both hands, and it is customary to let the higher-ranked persons go first. Just stuffing the card into a pocket will insult the Japanese. Instead, study it for a moment and memorize the person's name and position.
When negotiating, take into account that Japanese companies take much longer than American businesses to conduct an internal review and make a final decision. For many Japanese companies, making a decision requires the approval of several divisions or departments. Don't be surprised if responses sometimes take longer than expected, or if different people in the Japanese company repeat the same questions at more than one meeting.
It doesn't necessarily mean the other side isn't eager to proceed. It may mean that the person in charge of the negotiation does not have the full authority to make the final decision.
-- Dennis Unkovic
Meyer, Unkovic & Scott
Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business. To contribute, contact Business Editor Brian Hyslop at email@example.com.