Tech and Business Pearls

The secrets to winning business in Japan

I really love the Economist, and I learned a lot recently about doing business in Japan.

If you're visiting Japan for business, you're likely to be in Tokyo. As the largest city in the world Tokyo has services and amenities that you would expect in a large city as well as certain things you'll want to know about that are specific to conducting business in Japan.

International flights arrive at Haneda or Narita airports. Narita is farther away from the center of Tokyo. Upon landing, naturally you'll go through customs which is efficient but thorough.

Once through customs you'll likely head to a hotel in the center of Tokyo. Transportation costs depend on which airport arrived at. Narita is farther away from the center of Tokyo. For international travelers taking a taxi from Narita Airport to the center of Tokyo can run about $150 whereas a cab from Haneda Airport to the center of Tokyo runs usually about $30.

There’s also mass transit available at both airports that is less expensive than taxis. One important note to make about Japanese ideas of good manners is that tipping is deemed an insult in most cases. Therefore, unless you're rounding up your bill to avoid receiving change, you won't have to worry about tipping your taxi driver.

You should bring two maps one in English, one Japanese with you to help communicate with your taxi driver. English is not commonly spoken. If you choose mass transit, the good news is that mass transit frequently has signs that are in English as well as Japanese.

Two common places for business travelers to stay in Tokyo are the Okura Hotel and the Hilltop Hotel.

When you are ready to go to your business meeting, for men, you'll likely be wearing a tie though in warm summer weather ties are often not worn. Japan's summers are very warm and avoiding summertime travel, especially during August is advisable.

Before your meeting you should have determined the language that you’ll be using at the meeting. If the language is not English, there are many translation services around that can range from about $200 to $500 an hour.

Japan's business culture does use bowing. Your safest bet is to practice a bow that uses your head and neck and avoids being a deep bow even if the person bowing to you bows deeply. There are different reasons for the deep bow, such as a means of showing you respect by hotel workers, but the short bow should do it for you.

Don't be surprised if your business meeting does not cover a lot of substantive matters because the Japanese tend to spend time cultivating business relationships. While you might leave your business meeting with the impression that you’ve covered very little business, be prepared to cover business after hours at dinner engagements.

Alcohol in the form of sake or whiskey is frequently a part of these business dinners. You should consider business dinners as an opportunity to discuss business matters as your Japanese companions will likely bring up business.

Tokyo has the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world. There are great opportunities for good cuisine.

One thing you should note is that Japanese business people frequently assume that foreigners don't like to eat Japanese food so they'll recommend restaurants that serve non-Japanese food. If you like Japanese food you can indicate that you would like to eat at a Japanese restaurant.

When it comes to getting money from an ATM you should head for a 7-Eleven or a Citibank because these are primarily the locations that accept foreign cards.

As you make your way around Tokyo becoming familiar with unfamiliar customs and language challenges, there is a valuable piece of good news which is that Tokyo is an extremely safe city so that you likely will not have to worry about becoming a victim of crime as you navigate your way around the city."

over 7 years ago on April 30 at 6:27 pm by Joseph Perla in business, travel


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Hi, my business card says Joseph Perla. Former VP of Technology, founding team, Turntable.fm. My first college startup was in the education space. My second was Labmeeting, a cross between Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook for scientists. I dropped out of Princeton (twice).

I love to advise and help startups. My code on Github powers many websites and iPhone apps. I give talks about startup tech around the US and also internationally at conferences in Florence. incubators in Paris, and startups in Budapest.

Twitter: @jperla

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