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Japanese Business Etiquette 

Whether you have upcoming business dealings with Japanese businesses or if you're simply interested in Japanese business culture, this page offers knowledge of business etiquette in Japan. 


Rather than shaking hands in greeting like in the U.S., it is more common to bow in Japan. Some Japanese people may offer to shake hands first since you aren’t Japanese. If you’re unsure whether to bow or not, your best course of action is to follow what the other person does. If they offer to shake hands, do the same. If they bow, return the bow.

Bow posture is important to keep in mind. When bowing, keep your back straight as you bend at the waist. Your hands can be folded in front of you or at your side. It is also respectful to keep your eyes down when bowing, not looking up as you bend. 

For more information on the history and types of bowing: 

For a demonstration on best practices when bowing: 

Meishi Kokan

Meishi kokan is the exchange of business cards during introductions, especially during formal meetings. This has a high value in Japanese culture, so it is important to follow proper etiquette when giving and receiving a business card.

  • In meetings, those of highest ranking are the first to exchange their business cards. This is because the ritual of exchanging it is based on respect for order and rank.
  • It’s best if you can store cards in easily accessible places so they can be pulled out and presented immediately. Also, to ensure you’ll have enough it’s important to know how many people will be attending the meeting.
  • Be sure to thank the person you receive the card from. When you receive it, hold it in a low position, no higher than the chest.

For more rules and demonstration of exchanging business cards: 


There are some differences between U.S. business etiquette and Japanese business etiquette to be aware of:

  • Be punctual. Time is highly valued by Japanese people and it is considered very disrespectful to be late. The best practice is to arrive early to avoid potential lateness. If it’s unavoidable, contact whoever you’re meeting with to politely apologize and inform them of your tardiness.
  • Guests are normally seated away from doors since it will have the least disturbance when people come in or go out of the room. This is a courtesy to the visiting party. It’s best practice to wait for the host to lead you to your seat and wait for them to sit first to take your seat.
  • Taking lots of notes shows interest. It’s also good to avoid glancing at a clock or wristwatch so as to not communicate impatience or disinterest.
  • Don’t put too much pressure in meetings. If a decision needs to be made, it typically won’t be done in a first meeting. Long-term relationships are valued by Japanese people and companies and are a greater priority, so the decision-making process can take a long time. Putting pressure on the other party for decisions may be off-putting. It is also common for Japanese people to avoid direct statements preferring to be indirect, so be aware of when a statement that sounds like approval may be a refusal.
  • Be prepared. It is a courtesy to the other party to be ready with documents, business cards, and any other needed material for everyone participating in the meeting. 
  • Be considerate of nonverbal etiquette. It is impossible to understand the intricacies of another country's nonverbal communication, but there are some you can become aware of and keep in mind when communicating with Japanese business partners. For example, unlike in the U.S. where it is seen as polite to maintain direct eye contact, indirect eye contact is the preference for Japanese people. This is especially true when speaking to an elder or someone of higher rank than you. Direct eye contact can be interpreted as intimidating and disrespectful. Check out the video below for more examples. 

Gift giving 

This is a routine aspect in Japanese business culture and between corporate partners and clients. There are different times and circumstances when you may receive/offer a gift if doing business/working in Japan. If you live and work in Japan, you will probably give and receive gifts during Ochugen and Oseibo which are discussed more below. If you're not, it's still beneficial to know when and how to give gifts to show appreciation to business partners from Japan. 

When gifts are given

  • Ochugen: Gift giving during the Obon festival. It’s meant to show gratitude.
  • Oseibo: Gift given at the end of the year. It’s meant to pay back favors received over the year. It’s common to show appreciation through culinary gifts like confectionaries.
  • When doing business in Japan, you’ll be treated to their famous hospitality. To reciprocate you can bring a unique valuable from your home country. For example, if the corporation assigns an employee to assist you through your trip, giving a gift of a high-quality pen or respected brand name item makes for a good gift. If givento the department or company, confectionaries are a good choice since they can be easily shared.
  • When living and working in Japan, if you have to travel for business or pleasure, it’s common to give omiyage (edible souvenirs) from the place you travel to your coworkers. There’s symbolism in the color and style of gift wrapping, so it’s best to leave it to professionals.
Gift-giving etiquette
  • Present gifts with both hands.
  • Consider the timing of gift giving. For superiors, present when first meeting. For co-workers, present after necessary discussion has died down.
  • If it’s a gift of high value, consider saying: “It isn’t much, but please accept this gift,” or in Japanese: “Dōzo osame kudasai” (どうぞお納め下さい).
  • If more causal: “I thought you might like this” or “Yokattara moratte kudasai” (良かったらもらってください).
  • When receiving a gift: receive with both hands and express thanks: “Arigatō gozaimasu” (ありがとうございます). 

For more information: 

Phrases to Know

  • おはようございます。/ Ohayō gozaimasu.: Good morning.
  • こんにちは。/ Konnichiwa: Good afternoon.
  • はじめまして。/ Hajime mashite: Nice to meet you.
  • どうぞよろしくお願いします。/ Dōzo yoroshiku onegai shimasu: Nice to meet you/please take care of me.
  • お名前は? / Onamae wa?: What's your name?
  • [Your name]と申します。/ [Your name] to mōshimasu: My name is ...
  • ありがとうございます。/ Arigatō gozaimasu: Thank you.
  • すみません。Sumimasen: Excuse me.
  • さようなら。/ Sayōnara: Goodbye.
  • またいましょう。/ Mata aimashou: See you again.
  • 乾杯!/ Kanpai!: Cheers!

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