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General facts

Population: 127.6 million

Capital: Tokyo

Official language: Japanese

Currency: Japanese Yen

Religions: Buddhism and Shinto

Key industries

Manufacturing

Japan’s manufacturing industry is primarily the development and production of high technology such as electronics, medical devices, robotics. The majority of manufacturing takes place in the Tōhoku region in the northeast of Japan and Chūbu, the central region.

Agriculture

Although Japan’s agriculture industry has shrunk over the last few years, it still contributes to 1.4% national GDP. Japan is one of the largest producers of rice and also produces soybeans and vegetables such as green peppers in abundance.

Tourism

Tourism in Japan has grown by three times in the last five years and the country now has around 30 million visitors each year. This figure should increase greatly following the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next July.

Approach to business (things to keep in mind)

  • Exchanging business cards in a polite way is very important. When exchanging business cards, you should hand over your business card with both hands with the Japanese side facing up. When you receive your colleague’s card, take it with both hands and place it in your business card holder or on the table in front of you. Don’t write on it or put it in your pocket.
  • Privacy is important in Japan, so when you’re building rapport with Japanese colleagues do not ask too many personal questions. Keep conversations about local culture and food rather than about them and their families.
  • Use your Japanese business associates’ last names followed by the word san.
  • Be careful when using certain numbers. The word for “four” sounds like the word for “death”, so things that come in fours are considered unlucky.
  • If you’re given a gift, refuse it politely a couple of times and then accept it. Once you’ve accepted it put it down to one side and open it later in private.

Dos and Don'ts in a business meeting

Do…

  • …learn some basic greetings such as good morning, good afternoon, please and thank you. Also itadakimasu is used before everyone eats like the French use bon appetit.
  • …research the dos and don’ts of using chopsticks. Take a look at our blog to help you.
  • …dress conservatively. Business suits should be worn and colours and jewellery should be kept to a minimum
  • …acknowledge you’ve understood by paraphrasing, even if you’re working with an interpreter.

Don’t…

  • …use the “OK” sign or point. “OK” means money and pointing is considered rude.
  • …ask for a fork if you’re not used to using chopsticks. Your Japanese colleagues will ask for one for you if you look like you’re struggling.
  • …pour your own drinks at a meal either. Someone else will pour yours for you and you should pour drinks for your colleagues.
  • …sit down first in a meeting. Wait to be told to sit down by others.
  • …blow your nose in a meeting as it’s generally frowned upon. Excuse yourself and blow it in private.

Conversation topics

Local cuisine and sport are great topics of conversation when you’re out for dinner with your Japanese business associates. Avoid discussing religion, politics or money.