[Basic] Japanese Business Office Etiquette

[Basic] Japanese Business Office Etiquette

Did you know that there are many different business etiquette rules for visiting Japanese customers and business partners? When you hear that, you might think it’s complicated or cumbersome. Even I, who am used to negotiating with Japanese companies, sometimes think it’s too formal. But knowing this, I am sure they will think of you as follows.

“He/She understands Japanese business practices, so if there are any problems in the future, he/she may try to understand them.”

“He/She knows more business etiquette than the other foreign company (your competitor) who came to my office the other day. I’m more inclined to like his/her efforts.”

On the other hand, the attitude that you don’t need to know these rules because you are a foreigner is unacceptable to Japanese people, who value politeness very much. Of course, they may accept your irregularities just because you are from a different culture. But if you would like to have a successful business meeting, it’s important to make a good impression on them. What I am about to share with you is the basic business etiquette for office visits. With these tips, you’ll be able to go into negotiations having a big advantage.

This is a matter of course, but you need to be careful because Japan is said to be a country that is particularly punctual. By the way, even if the train is delayed by 3 minutes, an announcement of apology will be made on the train. People who are not on time for their appointments give the impression that they are untrustworthy.

Try to arrive there three to five minutes before the appointed time. However, if you are inevitably late for any reason, be sure to call before the appointment to let them know you will be late.

2. Take off your coat before entering the reception area or the building.

If you take off your coat after meeting with your business partner/customer, you will make him or her wait and leave them feeling a lack of sophistication. You also need to be careful not to bring dust and pollen from outside into the place you are visiting.

However, you can keep your suit jacket on. It is not rude to take off your coat and get ready before you are allowed to enter the room. When you leave again, it’s common to put your coat on after you leave the building.

3. Wear socks even in the hot summer.

Sometimes there are offices or restaurants where you have to take your shoes off before going in. If you’re not wearing socks and you put on slippers while barefoot, this gives the impression of being unsanitary. Also, just like a necktie, if your socks are too flamboyant, it may be a good topic of conversation, but on the other hand, some people may feel uncomfortable seeing them because it is not a typical thing to wear. It’s better to have solid colored socks with no holes in them.

4. Don’t sit in your seat right away. 

In the office you’re visiting, it’s better not to sit down before the host offers you a seat.

5. Bow when you see the person you are to meet.

How to bow in Japan

When you are face to face with someone, it is more common to bow than shake hands. It is also said that the way you bow shows your civility. If you can bow well, you will make a pretty good impression as a “polite person”. There are certain bow angles that are appropriate in various situations. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s a good idea to lean your upper body at 30 degrees. Bowing while walking is rude, so make sure to stop once you do.

The basic bowing motion 

  1. Stand with your back straight and make eye contact with him/her.
  2. Slowly lower your head and hold it bent at the waist for about 1 to 2 seconds
  3. Raise your upper body and make eye contact with the person again.

6. The first thing you do is exchanging business cards when you see him/her.

The exchange of business cards is a very important ritual in Japanese business. If you do that in the wrong way, there is a great possibility that he/she may feel uncomfortable. You can read more about how to exchange business cards here.

7. The best time to give a gift is after you exchange business cards and greetings.

If you are visiting with your boss, ask him to give it to the person you are going to see. If there is more than one person, give it to the person with the highest position. It’s good manners to take the gift out of the bag before giving it to him/her as the retail bag may be dirty. However, for convenience, the recipient might want to use the bag if the gift is large, you should say, “Excuse me for leaving the bag.” “Fukurono mamade shitsureishimasu“ in Japanese.

 “Fukurono mamade shitsureishimasu” ふくろのままで、しつれいします。

8. Be careful where you sit in the meeting room.

Once you are shown into the meeting room you are visiting, you are not allowed to sit anywhere you want, but there are some basic rules. The farthest point from the doorway is called “Kamiza”, where guests, elders and superiors sit. This is because it’s far from the doorway, so it’s considered a nice, calm place with few people coming and going. If you are visiting, they will be the host and you will be the customer, so they will probably recommend a seat at Kamiza. Even if you are there to make a sale, you are still allowed to sit there. If you  say “Oku,Shitsureishimasu(Excuse me to the top seat.)” then you’ll be perceived as a polite person. The place closest to the doorway is called “Shimoza”, and the person in a lower position is supposed to sit in it. In this case, the person you are visiting sits there.

 Oku,Shitsureishimasu おくしつれいします。

Seat position when visiting aloneSeat position when visiting more than two

9. Don’t cross your legs during business meetings

In countries other than Japan, they might not care about crossing your legs during a business meeting. However, crossing your legs is considered arrogant in Japan.  At any rate, politeness and modesty are the most important thing in Japan.

10. Regarding yawning

Since yawning is a physiological phenomenon, it’s often impossible to tell people not to yawn. You may yawn, especially if you’re tired from long distance travel or jet-lagged and sleep-deprived. However, in Japan, yawning during a business meeting is considered rude. Many people will be uncomfortable when they see you yawning and wonder if the business meeting is boring or if you’re not concentrating.

The best thing to do is to keep your mouth closed as much as possible if you are about to yawn. If you open your mouth, cover it with your hand. Then say a few words, “I’m sorry, but I’m focusing on the meeting, so don’t worry about it, ” which will put them at ease.

11. When you leave, you hold your bow until the elevator door closes.

At the end of a business meeting, when separating from him/her in front of the elevator, keep your head down and bent at the waist and remain still until the elevator door closes. At this time, you should not raise your head in the middle. In other words, keep bowing and never make eye contact again.

Also, don’t talk with your colleagues in the elevator about the business meeting or the company. Some of them in the elevator may be related to the company. It would be fatal if they misunderstood your conversations and gossiped that you were talking badly about the company. Refrain from talking about that until you leave the building.

12. Watch out for bad breath, too much perfume, and other odors!

Not only in Japan, but also in business settings in general, odor etiquette is necessary. Especially when you have a business meeting after lunch, you should avoid garlic dishes. Also, be careful not to wear too much perfume. Perfumes are tailored to each country’s climate to ensure that they have a long-lasting smell. For example, it is said that perfumes used in countries with low humidity have a stronger smell than in Japan because they evaporate quickly.

On the other hand, in Japan, where the humidity is high, the odor is weaker. This means that Japanese people often think that foreign perfumes are too harsh for them to smell. Therefore be careful not to wear too much or use a Japanese perfume. Especially from June to August, when the humidity is high, even a little bit of perfume can be perceived as too strong.

These are the etiquette that you should follow in the other office. There are a lot of rules, and you may find it difficult to remember them all. However, if you can do these properly, they may say that you know Japanese business etiquette. When they say so, you should reply to them as follows

“I have studied Japanese business culture to put your mind at ease. Please let me know if there is anything else I need to know.”

This will make them feel respected and their trust in you will be unwavering. Please keep this in mind.


  1. Be on time
  2. Be careful about when you take your coat off.
  3. Wear socks any time
  4. Don’t sit in your seat right away.
  5. Remember how to bow.
  6. Remember the timing to exchange business cards
  7. Remember the etiquette of giving a gift
  8. Be careful where you sit in the meeting room.
  9. Don’t cross your legs
  10. Don’t forget Yawning etiquette
  11. Bow until the elevator door closes.
  12. Be careful about odors etiquette