Japanese Vs. Foreign Business Manners

Japanese companies are also actively hiring foreigners with the aim of globalization, and major companies are making efforts to change their official language to English.

Therefore, even if you do not usually work directly with foreigners, you may have to deal with them both inside and outside your company in the future.

However, when dealing with people from overseas, there are many differences not only in languages such as English and Chinese but also in business practices.

Of course, different countries have different ways of approaching and understanding various aspects of work, but there are also foreign business customs and unwritten rules that are difficult for Japanese people to understand. 

In this article, we will introduce about 30 business manners that differ between Japan and other countries.

This lists the main differences from the United States, which seems to have a lot of involvement, and describes if there are distinctive things in other countries.

This lists the main differences from the United States, which seems to have a lot of involvement, and describes if there are distinctive things in other countries.

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American companies make decisions faster than their Japanese counterparts.

Japanese companies have a decision-making approval process that escalates from the bottom of the position to the top, but in the United States, superiors often take responsibility and give their subordinates the freedom to make decisions, and decisions are made quickly. tend to.

However, it can be said that Japanese decision-making takes more time and fewer mistakes are made, thus maintaining a high level of quality.

Conversely, in the U.S., free decision-making by subordinates can cause problems later.

In Japan, achievements in a “group” have greater significance.

For this reason, the roles of the leader, sub-leaders, managers, and on-site workers are clearly defined, and importance is placed on the achievements of the group as a unit.

In the U.S., on the other hand, each individual plays a useful role and is expected to contribute on an individual basis.

Therefore, leadership is required not only from superiors, but also from all members, and to that extent, freedom of decision and responsibility is given to each individual.

American companies tend to value “results” rather than “processes.”

Japanese companies spare no effort in spending their budget and time on building processes, but in contrast, American companies place less emphasis on spending time and budget on “processes.”

Japanese people sometimes say that “the process is more important than the result,” but in American companies, generally speaking, “the result is more important than the process.

Japanese people don’t say “can do” unless they can almost certainly do it 100%.

Emphasis is placed on being more accurate, and what you say you can’t do is taken as a bad thing.

Americans, on the other hand, generally say they can, if they think it is possible, and try to do it 100%.

In Japanese companies, “coordination” and “laying the groundwork” are considered more important than an individual’s ability to communicate.

Also, it is said that it is good to understand what you should do by “reading the atmosphere” and move.

However, in countries such as the United States, India, and China, which are made up of people from different ethnic groups, emphasis is placed on the individual’s assertiveness and ability to communicate so that they can convey their intentions without misunderstandings or errors.

Meetings in Japan tend to be formal and ceremonial, with the main parties involved laying the groundwork in advance to ensure a smooth flow.

On the other hand, meetings at overseas companies tend to involve intense discussions.

Overseas, you often interact with people of many different races, ethnicities, and ideologies, and misunderstandings can arise if you cannot correctly express your views.

This is thought to be because overseas, discussions are incorporated into classes from the time students are in school and they are more accustomed to them than in Japan, and also because Japanese people are mono-ethnic and place more emphasis on “reading the air” and “being flexible” to understand each other’s intentions.

In Japan, there is a strong belief that important discussions should be conducted in person, but overseas companies tend to actively use videoconferencing and other technologies such as webcams.

Overseas, however, companies tend to actively use videoconferencing via webcam

Telephone and email are also used more in Japan.

In Japan, more and more companies are adopting it, but face-to-face meetings tend to be valued as a courtesy.

Although an increasing number of companies in Japan are adopting these technologies, there is a tendency to value the importance of face-to-face meetings as a matter of courtesy.

In the U.S., “telework,” where people work from home, is becoming a common practice.

In Japan, more and more companies are introducing telework, but it is not yet in full swing.

Also, in terms of workplace space, while in the U.S., individual spaces are widely separated and secured, most Japanese offices are arranged in so-called “striped” layouts, with the boss at the top and the desks of the members of his or her team lined up in a row, and individual spaces like in the U.S. are rarely set aside for employees. In Japan, offices are usually arranged in a row with the supervisor at the top and the members of the group at their desks.

In terms of working hours, Japanese employees work set hours, but many American companies allow employees to flexibly set their hours.

In Japan as well, flexible working hours are being introduced mainly by foreign-affiliated companies and creative companies, but they are not yet mainstream.

(*Telework: A flexible work style in which employees work without being restricted by time or place, utilizing information and communication devices.)

The retirement benefit system differs between the U.S. and Japan.

In Japan, companies accumulate retirement allowances and pay stipulated retirement allowances to retiring employees, but many American companies apply a defined contribution pension system. 

Under the general retirement allowance system in Japan, it is necessary to be prepared to pay the retirement allowance promised by the company to the employee at the time of retirement.

On the other hand, in the defined contribution pension system, pensions paid by the company are accumulated in a dedicated account for each employee, and the employees themselves manage the pension.

Therefore, it can be said that in the U.S., there is less resistance to retirement or career change than in Japan because there are no disadvantages such as “fewer retirement benefits for shorter service period” due to the accumulation of “defined contribution pension plans” in the U.S.

Although the term “life-work balance” is becoming increasingly heard in Japan, work is still often regarded as the center of one’s life. While in the U.S, private/personal time is very important.

Also, in countries such as Italy and Brazil, family and private life tend to be more important than work.


There are different ways of thinking about business cards in Japan and overseas. In Japan, business cards are considered very important.

When it comes to the way business cards are handed over, courtesy manners are valued and treated as an important sales tool, but business cards are not so important overseas.

In Japan, business cards are exchanged before greeting each other, but in other countries, it is customary to shake hands to show that there is no hostility, and then hand over the business cards after a short conversation.

When languages differ, communicating intentions through body language can be useful. However, certain body language may have different meanings in different countries.

In Japan, some people unconsciously cross their arms during meetings and discussions, but this is not acceptable in front of foreign businessmen.

It may be viewed as a “hostile gesture” and is not considered good business etiquette. It is necessary to keep in mind not to fold one’s arms when discussing business with businessmen from overseas companies.

In addition, the gesture that Japanese people make when calling someone, beckoning with the palm down, “Come, come, come,” means “Go away” in the U.S., and the gesture of “Good!” or making a “◯” with the index finger and thumb to convey the emotion of “I like you!

When dealing with foreign businessmen, you should keep in mind that careless gestures are dangerous.

Japanese people tend to smile when they do not understand, when they are in trouble, or when they do not know what to do.

While Japanese people can somehow understand the nuance of this smile between Japanese people, smiling without understanding the meaning may cause discomfort overseas, as people may wonder why they are smiling when they don’t understand.

If you smile while saying, “I don’t understand,” you may be taken as if you are making fun of them.

In Japan, bowing is often used as a way to show courtesy to others, but it is not so common overseas.

In the U.S. and other countries, making eye contact is considered important, so bowing does not make a good impression because it makes it difficult to maintain eye contact.

Also, if you lower your head too much, it will give you the impression of being restless. It’s best to bow when you do and otherwise maintain a firm attitude.

In Japan, it is common to respect superiors and seniors.

There is a “seniority system” for seating at dinners, cab rides, and even elevator rides, where one sits in the order of title or position.

In the U.S., however, it is common to give preference to women over superiors, or “ladies first.”

Regardless of whether the other party is a business partner or a female employee of the company, we give priority to women.

There is no distinction between business seats and private seats.

Please be aware that this is very different from Japan, where women are expected to leave the door open even for women they do not know.

In Japan as well, men often invite women out for dinner or drinks, but in the U.S. in particular, when a man invites a woman out for dinner on a one-on-one basis, it means “asking her out on a date” and carries a special meaning.

Even if you just invite a female employee who has completed an important mission to go out for a drink with the meaning of “thank you for your hard work“, if you invite her one-on-one, it will be taken as “looking at you as the opposite sex”, so you need to be careful.

In Japan, it is common to offer “O-shaku” to your boss or superiors at a drinking party.

However, in most cases, there is no “O-shaku” culture in other countries.

Even if you are entertaining guests, you do not pour alcohol into the glasses of your guests or superiors.

It is common to either pour it yourself or have it poured by a waiter.

If you pour it just because it’s normal in Japan, people may think it suspicious.

In Japan, when you call a waiter at a restaurant, you may raise your hand and say “Excuse me!”.

On the other hand, in the United States and other countries, eye contact is common, so you don’t raise your hand to call the store clerk, but use your eyes to signal.

Since store clerks are always attentive, they notice you immediately.

In America, we don’t complain about work at the dinner table.

Most of the conversation is about business or private matters that have nothing to do with business.

When Japanese people go home after work and have a drink, most of the topics of conversation tend to be “complaining about the boss, the company, or work,” which is not very popular because it is considered to be confusing for work and private life.

Also, in Japan, most people go to drinking parties in their suits after work, but in America, it is not uncommon for people to change clothes after returning home and attend drinking parties in plain clothes.

In Japan, we sometimes hear stories about businessmen who get drunk in front of an izakaya and sleep on the sidewalk until morning.

In addition, although this kind of story is often told with pride as if it were a kind of “war story”, it is considered embarrassing to get drunk overseas. 

Research shows that Asians, including Japanese, are genetically vulnerable to alcohol. Therefore, if you drink with Western businessmen, you may end up getting drunk.

Understanding the appropriate amount of alcohol for oneself and being able to drink without overdoing it is also required as quality as a businessman.


Japanese people are relatively accustomed to crowded trains and do not pay much attention to passing in front of others, but in the U.S. and other countries, it is common to say “Excuse me” when passing in front of others.

In the U.S., being late to a drinking party because you are late for work is considered a lack of self-control and may give a bad impression of you as a businessman.

Work and private life are separate, so work shouldn’t be a reason to be late for a drinking party.

On the other hand, in Japan, there is a trend that if you say “I’m busy with work,” other things will be forgiven, but this kind of work-first policy is not very common in Western companies.

In Japan, some people run on the train when they are about to be late for work or school, but this is rarely seen among businessmen overseas.

In the United States and elsewhere, people who run because they are late are often mistaken for snatchers or seen as strange behavior.

It also gives the impression of being someone sloppy with time.

It is necessary to be on time.

Business emails in Japan have fixed phrases.

It can be said that how well you can use these fixed phrases indicates the level of your business etiquette.

There are also greetings at the beginning, various phrases, and unique manners for each company and industry, and if you do not follow the complicated rules, you may be seen as rude.

On the other hand, overseas business e-mails are very simple.

There is no need to use honorific titles or honorific expressions, which are valued in Japan.

The emphasis is on how concisely and accurately the content of the message can be conveyed.

Meetings in countries such as the United States are required to produce results fewer times and in a shorter time. 

Meetings in Japan often become ritualized and routine, as is often ridiculed, and some companies have “meetings for meetings” where meetings are held in advance for important meetings attended by the president and senior executives. The opinions of superiors tend to be extremely important.

However, it also has the advantage of making a detailed plan by repeating a lot of times and times, and thoroughly aligning each other’s awareness.

 In contrast to overseas corporate meetings where active discussions are held, in Japan, it seems that meetings are often aimed at unifying the awareness of members.

It is said that honorifics in Japanese are more complicated than in other languages.

 In addition to the honorific, humble, and polite language, there are many first-person and second-person terms depending on the situation, and if used incorrectly, it may turn out to be rude to the other person.

Some expressions correspond to honorifics overseas, but they are not as complicated as in Japanese.

In Japanese business, it is considered polite to fulfill one’s obligations through seasonal gifts such as midsummer and year-end gifts.

Gifts are often carefully wrapped and presented in more upscale or seasonal gift sets of food and daily necessities.

In contrast, wine and flowers are more popular in the United States.

However, in any country, you need to be careful when sending flowers. Lilies and chrysanthemums in Japan, white roses in the U.S., and chrysanthemums and carnations in France are not suitable gifts because they are associated with funerals and farewells.

In Japan, drinking parties are held as an extension of work, such as work, entertainment, and after-party.

Although it depends on the company culture, there are not many personal relationships among colleagues, and they do not often invite each other to their homes for dinner parties.

On the other hand, in America, business associates are often invited to their homes relatively soon, and often have meals together.

A casual, informal relationship is expected.

Japanese people do not often show off their abilities, achievements, and accomplishments.

However, Americans in particular directly appeal to others about their talents and accomplishments.

If it is true, it is natural for them to appeal to their talents to others.

 When talking with Americans, don’t be shy about telling each other first what you have done and what you can do, so that you can confirm their abilities and start the business smoothly.

Japanese people tend to have the impression that they speak clearly to foreigners, but overseas businessmen see the Japanese as being too talkative.

Among the unique rules cultivated within the company or the industry, the Japanese tend to consider it a virtue to be able to communicate without having to say it, and this is also useful in business.

However, most overseas businesspeople are educated on the importance of expressing their own opinions.

To expand business globally, it is necessary to proactively clarify one’s assertions, rather than taking for granted the “reading between the lines” communication that Japanese companies have.


How do you feel about the differences between Japanese and overseas business manners?

We mainly introduced the differences between the U.S. and Japan, but there are many differences depending on the country.

There are big differences in ethnicity and manners between the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which are English-speaking countries, as well as between Japan, China, and South Korea.

Keep in mind that what is considered normal in Japan may be considered wrong or offensive to foreign businesspeople, and try to respond in a manner that is not rude.