JAPAN

Beginner Japanese
おはよう Ohayou Good morning.
こんにちは Konnichiwa Good afternoon.
こんばんは Konbanwa Good evening
さようなら Sayounara Goodbye.
ありがとう Arigatou Thank you
すみません Sumimasen Excuse me. / I’m sorry
はじめまして Hajimemashite Nice to meet you.

Introduction

Japanese is the only official language in Japan and is spoken by about 120 million people. Japanese and Chinese are completely different languages. Japanese does makes extensive use of Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字), in its writing system, and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. the Japanese writing system primarily uses two scripts, hiragana (ひらがな ) and katakana (カタカナ). Latin script is used in a limited fashion, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals alongside traditional Chinese numerals.

Language

The Japanese are very proud of their language.Their language is closely interlinked with the culture and thus it needs to be respected. It will be endearing to your Japanese partners if you can use some basic Japanese although they will not expect you to be fluent. Japanese is an honorific language, and there are different levels of respect given to different people depending on their age or position in society, as a beginner you will be excused for mistakes relating to honorific works, in fact a mistake may be seen as humorous.

Romanization

All Japanese who have attended elementary school since World War II have been taught to read and write romanized Japanese. Therefore, almost all Japanese are able to read and write Japanese using rōmaji(Romanization), although it is extremely rare in Japan to use this method to write Japanese (except as an input tool on a computer ), and most Japanese are more comfortable reading kanji/kana (characters).

The Hepburn romanization system (ヘボン式ローマ字 ), although not officially approved, transcribes the sounds of the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet. Hepburn remain the most widely used methods of transcription of Japanese, and are regarded as the best to render Japanese pronunciation for Western speakers.

English in Japan

All Japanese have studied English at school and English is spoken by growing numbers. However, few people other than officials, academics and businessmen who are in frequent contact with foreigners can speak it well. Bear in mind many Japanese are sometimes too polite to let you know when they do not fully understand. You can help reduce miscommunication by:

  • Speaking patiently and slowly (no need to speak particularly loudly, though)
  • Avoid using the ‘or’ structure. Break things down to a question that require a yes or no answer.
  • Avoid tag questions since Japaneses will reply to the questioner and not the questions. For example: Q. You don’t like cold weather do you? Western Answer: No, I don’t. I prefer summer.   Japanese Answer: Yes.
  • Use simple short words if possible
  • If you are speaking to more than one person, give them time to translate and/or explain to each other what you are saying.
  • Repeat key points several times, rephrasing a little if possible.
  • Write key points if you can since most Japanese read English quite well.
  • Find a diplomatic way to have the person repeat/paraphrase what you’ve been saying.
  • Learning some Japanese – especially key words that you would use in your business. No need to become fluent, but key words and phrases can only help you do business more effectively and easily.
  • Learn to figure out the Japanese ‘yes’ which is more likely to mean “I understand” or “I’ll try and do my best” as opposed to the Western “I agree” or “I’ll do it”.
  •  Deciphering the Japanese “No” is equally important but challenging. In traditional Japanese culture it is impolite to say “No” directly. So, instead of doing so, many Japanese will find an indirect way of doing so. For example, they may impose conditions that make the deal impossible for the other party to accept. Rather than reject an invitation, they many keep putting it off, which is an indirect “no” or they may simply not show up, expecting that you would have understood that they never intended to come. Sometimes, you’ll discover that something a Japanese has agreed to do has not been done. His original intention was likely not to deceive you, but when he agreed, he couldn’t say “No”, so his “Yes” meant “If it is possible, I’ll do it”.

Working with interpreters

You wouldn't ask a student to represent you in court up fill out your tax returns so why ask someone to be your interpreter simply because they are from that country. Many New Zealand businesses fall into the trap or relying on the other sides interpreting staff, or find the cheapest  option. Below are a few rules for working with an interpreter:

  • Hire a well-briefed professional interpreter. Though this is likely to be expensive, it will be money well spent.
  • Have your own interpreter available, even if your counterparts have one for their side. With your own interpreter, you should also be able to get some post-meeting feedback concerning the nuances of what was said (and – just as importantly – not said).
  • Try to involve your interpreter at every stage of your pre-meeting arrangements. The quality of interpretation will improve greatly if you provide adequate briefing on the subject matter.
  • Ensure your interpreter understands what you are trying to achieve.
  • Speak clearly and evenly with regular breaks for interpretation.
  • Don’t ramble on for several paragraphs without pause. Your interpreter will find it hard to remember everything you have said, let alone interpret all your points.
  • Conversely, don’t speak in short phrases and unfinished sentences. Your interpreter may find it impossible to translate the meaning if you have left a sentence hanging.
  • Avoid jargon, unless you know your interpreter is familiar with the terminology.
  • Listen to how your interpreter interprets what you have just said. If you have given a lengthy explanation but the interpreter translates it into only a few words, it may be that they have not fully understood, or they may be wary of passing on a message that is too blunt and will not be well-received by the audience.
  • Make sure that your message is getting through clearly and in a tone that will not cause resentment.

Culture

The People

Japan is a highly structured and traditional society. Great importance is placed on loyalty, politeness, personal responsibility and on everyone working together for the good of the larger group. Education, ambition, hard work, patience and determination are held in the highest regard. The crime rate is one of the lowest in the world.

Meeting and Greeting

  • A handshake is appropriate upon meeting. The Japanese handshake is limp and with little or no eye contact.
  • Some Japanese bow and shake hands. The bow is a highly regarded greeting to show respect and is appreciated by the Japanese. A slight bow to show courtesy is acceptable.

Body Language

  • Nodding is very important. When listening to Japanese speak, especially in English, you should nod to show you are listening and understanding the speaker.
  • Silence is a natural and expected form of non-verbal communication. Do not feel a need to chatter.
  • Do not stand close to a Japanese person. Avoid touching.
  • Prolonged eye contact (staring) is considered rude.
  • Don’t show affection, such as hugging or shoulder slapping, in public.
  • Never beckon with your forefinger. The Japanese extend their right arm out in front, bending the wrist down, waving fingers. Do not beckon older people.
  • Sit erect with both feet on the floor. Never sit with ankle over knee.
  • Waving a hand back and forth with palm forward in front of face means "no" or "I don't know." This is a polite response to a compliment.
  • Never point at someone with four fingers spread out and thumb folded in.

Corporate Culture

  • Punctuality is a must in all business and social meetings.
  • Any degree of knowledge of Japanese culture is greatly appreciated.
  • Japanese may exchange business cards even before they shake hands or bow. Be certain your business card clearly states your rank. This will determine who your negotiating counterpart should be.
  • Bear in mind that initial negotiations begin with middle managers. Do not attempt to go over their heads to senior management.
  • It is acceptable to use a Japanese company interpreter in the first meeting. Once negotiations begin, hire your own interpreter.
  • Both business and personal relationships are hierarchical. Older people have higher status than younger, men higher than women and senior executives higher than junior executives.
  • It is very important to send a manager of the same rank to meet with a Japanese colleague. Title is very important.
  • Work is always undertaken as a group. The workgroup is strongly united with no competition; all succeed or all fail. Decision-making is by consensus. Everyone on the work team must be consulted before making decisions. This is a very slow process.
  • The first meeting may focus on establishing an atmosphere of friendliness, harmony and trust. Business meetings are conducted formally, so leave your humor behind. Always allow ten minutes of polite conversation before beginning business meetings.
  • It takes several meetings to develop a contract. When the time comes, be content to close a deal with a handshake. Leave the signing of the written contract to later meetings.
  • Etiquette and harmony are very important. "Saving face" is a key concept. Japanese are anxious to avoid unpleasantness and confrontation. Try to avoid saying "no." Instead, say, "This could be very difficult," allowing colleagues to save face.
  • Proper introduction to business contacts is a must. The introducer becomes a guarantor for the person being introduced.
  • Do not bring a lawyer. It is important is to build business relationships based on trust. The Japanese do not like complicated legal documents. Write contracts that cover essential points.

Dining and Entertainment

  • Restaurant entertaining is crucial to business. A person is judged by his/her behavior during and after business hours. Seldom is a business deal completed without dinner in a restaurant.
  • Drinking is a group activity. Do not say "no" when offered a drink.
  • An empty glass is the equivalent of asking for another drink. Keep your glass at least half full if you do not want more. If a Japanese person attempts to pour more and you do not want it, put your hand over your glass, or fill it with water if necessary.
  • An empty plate signals a desire for more food. Leave a little food on your plate when you are finished eating.
  • When drinking with a Japanese person, fill his glass or cup after he has filled yours. While he is pouring, hold your cup or glass up so he can fill it easily. Never pour your own drink and always pour your companion's.
  • Toasting is very important in Japan and many toasts are offered during the course of an evening. At dinner, wait for the toast before you drink. Respond to each toast with a toast.
  • Wait for the most important person (honored guest) to begin eating. If you are the honored guest, wait until all the food is on the table and everyone is ready before you eat.
  • When offered food, it is polite to hesitate before accepting. You do not have to eat much, but it is rude not to sample each dish.
  • It is acceptable to slurp noodles. Some Japanese believe that it makes them taste better.
  • Do not finish your soup before eating other foods. It should accompany your meal. Replace the lid of the soup bowl when finished eating.

Dress

  • Dress is modern and conservative. The Japanese dress well at all times. Dress smartly for parties, even if an invitation says "Casual" or "Come as you are."
  • For business, men should wear dark suits and ties (subtle colors).
  • Women should wear dresses, suits and shoes with heels. Subtle colors and conservative styles are best for business.

Gifts

  • The ritual of gift giving is more important than the value of the gift.
  • Allow your Japanese counterpart to initiate the gift giving. Present a gift in a modest fashion, saying, "This is just a small token," or "This is an insignificant gift."
  • It is very important to receive a gift properly. Give a gift and receive a gift with both hands and a slight bow. The Japanese may refuse a gift once or twice before accepting it.
  • Do not give anyone a gift unless you have one for everyone present.
  • Correct wrapping is very important. Appearance counts for as much or more than the contents.
  • Be prepared to give and receive a gift at a first business meeting. Gifts are frequently given at the end of a first meeting. Not giving a proper gift could ruin a business relationship.

Helpful Hints

  • Avoid using the number "four" if possible. It has connotations of death to the Japanese.
  • The Japanese may ask personal questions. This is not intended to be rude, but rather a polite way to show interest. You may give vague or general answers if you feel a question is too personal.
  • The Japanese do not express opinions and desires openly. What they say and what they mean may be very different.
  • Do not expect a Japanese person to say "no." "Maybe" generally means "no."

Especially for Women

  • Non-Japanese women are treated very politely in business and it is understood that Western women hold high-level positions in business. Western women must establish credibility and a position of authority immediately.
  • A non-Japanese woman is viewed first as a foreigner and then as a woman and is treated accordingly.
  • Businesswomen can invite a Japanese businessman to lunch or dinner. Allow your Japanese colleague to pick the restaurant.