Story // 29.06.2022

Business culture: Key differences between Japan and the West

Despite being in Europe, SEKISUI’s working atmosphere is heavily influenced by Japanese culture. This is something almost all non-Japanese employees of SEKISUI experience. Have you ever wondered what this means or how it becomes visible in your daily work? You might be familiar with the business card etiquette but there are many other aspects to consider. To ensure smooth communication between you and your Japanese colleagues or business partners, you should know that what the West may consider “normal” can be completely frowned upon in the Japanese culture. This article will be your guide to understanding the difference between the Japanese work culture and the Western one. Hopefully, this makes you aware of the Do’s and Don'ts when interacting with Japanese in business life.



1. Dress code is crucial at work

In the Japanese workplace, there often is a strict dress code enforced by the companies, and all employees have to follow certain color spectrums, wearing similar outfit styles and colors. In comparison to the Western culture where you usually have more liberty with regards to your working outfit. Formality is pivotal.

2. Silence is golden
Unlike a lot of Western cultures, the Japanese consider silence to be a normal and natural part of their communication style. It is considered a symbol of wisdom and is appropriate for business settings. Silence is used in many different situations whether it be a polite pause during a conversation or a thoughtful pause during a negotiation. On that note, it is interesting to mention that during conflicts in meetings, Japanese people resort to silence as way to release the tension and take some time off.

3. Read the body language
The body language and gestures used in Japan are quite different compared to what is used in Western cultures. Raising your eyebrow in the West can be taken as a sign of greeting someone, however, raising eyebrows in Japan means “come on.” We highly recommend avoiding doing the “thumbs down” gesture. It means “go to hell” in Japan, and you do not want to say that to someone in the workplace.

4. Modesty is key
Japanese people are quite modest and humble. So do not try to raise yourself above others nor boast about yourself as it will reflect poorly on you. It is often seen as a sign of inconsideration towards others if you boast about yourself. Instead, express modesty in different ways such as the way you handle yourself, how you communicate and treat others around you, and how you apologize (also a part of modesty).

5. Seniority is respected
Age in Japan is highly respected and considered synonymous with the workplace hierarchy, meaning that you find people of older ages in high rankings. Hence, it is wise to show reverence towards senior executives. A simple example of respecting seniority is to greet the eldest and most senior person in the room before anyone else.

6. Privacy is valued
In the West, it is quite normal to ask personal questions to get to know your work partner and build a good rapport. Nevertheless, the Japanese value privacy and prefer to keep their private lives a secret, especially in the workplace. Thus, refrain from asking personal questions or giving opinions right away, and only do so when you feel like it is being reciprocated in the conversation.

7. Group-oriented culture
Japan is a collectivist country, meaning that they are group-oriented and view themselves as a team/whole unit rather than an individual. Success or failure of a business is attributed to the whole team, and not to one individual. Therefore, you should always try to credit the whole team rather than just one person (even if they helped you a lot) because you might end up embarrassing that person.

Group work is key in Japan