Everywhere across countries and cultures there are work etiquettes. Japan is known for its electronic products and multinational companies. At work, the Japanese follow work etiquettes to make sure organized work, conformity to local tradition and social harmony. If you work in Japan or in a Japanese company in your home country, these ten facts will help you get started.
Bowing is the counterpart of shaking hands in western, Arab and other Asian countries. Although it’s acceptable to shake hands, bowing is more common. Shaking hands is used for greeting someone for success and between close friends.
- Facing a person while looking downwards.
- Bowing deeply is reserved for superiors, older people and persons of higher social status (prime ministers and members of the Japanese royal family). A deep and low bowing may also mean offering a sincere apology, worship and respect. A shallow bow means you are bowing to your equal.
- Keeping your hands on both sides while bowing.
The Japanese bow in these occasions:
- asking for an apology
- showing respect
- beginning a formal training or ceremony
- leaving or entering a martial arts session
- saying goodbyes
- showing appreciation
The Japanese bowing angles
•Use between people of
•Used between a subordinate and a person of higher social status.
•Used when asking, showing or offering apologies, regret, and respect.
2. Greetings and expressions
The Japanese have greetings depending on the time of the day and intentions.
Japanese in Romaji, Hiragana, Katakana, Romaji
You can use this for everyone even if it's not morning as you can say this upon your first arrival at the office. Your superior might say おはよう
Otsukare sama desu
Good job, good work
Literally, this means you must be tired from work or you look tired.
Usually used to greet someone inside the office after he/she finishes a presentation.
Osewa ni natte orimasu
Thank you for your support.
This implies that you’re thanking a person for his/her services, cooperation and kind support.
Used in customer service such as answering a call and starting an email.
Otsukare sama deshita
You have done great work, Have a good evening.
This means that your work is finished (meeting, project and presentation).
3. Addressing names
Unlike western names, the Japanese use their family names first. For example, Suzuki, Mariko. Suzuki is the family name and Mariko is the first name. Then, you’ll attach “San” to Suzuki which becomes Suzuki-san or miss Suzuki.“San さん” can be used regardless of gender as it means Mr, Miss, Mrs.
Apart from San, they also use Sama, Kun and Chan. What do they mean by these honorifics?
Use and meaning
Gender-neutral that means Mr, Miss, Mrs
Refers to children, lovers, close friends and women family members. It’s also used for male children not fitting in Kun suffix and pets. Other variations include Tan たん and Chin ちん.
Used for formal situations or when addressing a person of higher business rank. It can also be used for customers - o-kyaku-sama - the customer. The honorific is also used for people of exceptional ability or celebrity status.
Used in formal speech and writing (newspapers, journals, whitepapers, legal documents).
Used to refer to bosses such as managers or division heads. You can use it with or without the last name. So you can call someone Watanabe-bocho.. Take note that business titles in japan are varied as they depend on the rank and can be quite complicated. Here’s a reference.
Sensei is used at school to address a teacher or professors. Hakase is for instructors with doctoral degrees. So, you can call someone Nakamura-hakase (Dr.Nakamura).
Used to refer to high-ranking government officials such as ambassadors and heads of states.
4. Cleaning the work environment
If you have been to a typical Japanese home, you can find that things are organized. While we can’t generalize all Japanese are tidy, cleanliness inside a home or office is one of the Japanese traits known to other countries. For example, a Japanese home has a genkan - which is a place where shoes should be removed. This is also the same in the office. So working for a Japanese managed company, you’ll be asked to keep your working station clean and without clutters lying around. Floors are also routinely broomed and mopped.
5. Waiting first before sitting down
Whether you’re a visitor or a meeting attendant, it’s a courtesy to wait until a host or a manager says “Please have a seat.” before you sit down. Not doing so may mean you’re in a rush, rude or a newbie to Japanese culture.
6. Following seating arrangements
There’s a social hierarchy even in seating arrangements. The oldest or the person with high social status or company position (Director/CEO) will sit at the chair located at the opposite end of the table.
7. Showing up early
Most Japanese are morning people and thus they arrive at work early as 8 am or 9 am. They usually arrive 10 minutes early. So if you’re expected at 10 am, you must be at the workplace exactly at 10 am. It’s common in Japanese culture that parents teach their children the importance of being on time and thinking about the people who can be affected if one person is tardy. Valuing punctuality started during the pre-Meiji restoration when people of the early 1850s were relaxed and behind the schedule until Emperor Meiji established reforms and modernization campaigns. Being early in Japan shows your respect for your working colleagues and bosses and communicating that you are serious with your work.
You can observe punctuality at shinkansen bullet trains that are strict in observing scheduled commuting time. If you want to ride one, buy a ticket 15 to 30 minutes in advance.
8. Dressing for work
Working clothes in Japan are similar to western clothing and it depends on the occasion. Japanese culture values uniformity and organized clothing. In a business casual, men wear a patterned or one-colour tie, coat, slacks, and long-sleeve underclothing. Women wear classic or dark suits, slacks, neutral or black hosiery and skirts.
Patterned, dotted or one-colour tie
Dark or dark blue coat
Classic or dark suits
Neutral or black hosiery
High-heels or wedges
9. Receiving Business cards
Business cards are important in Japan and in a business setting, you may give or receive a card. This small document is important in Japan and treating it properly means you're treating the person with respect and a level of formality.
- Hold the card with both your hands, say thank you, read it and place it in a cardholder.
- Don’t push or toss the card across the table.
- Approach the person and give your card.
- Place the card on the table if you have received it during the meeting.
10. Getting to know at Bonenkai (yearly office party)
Business lunch, dinner and parties such as bonenkai make up rules such as eating and usage of utensils.
Bonenkai is an annual office night-out party to commemorate a success with colleagues and bosses. Herein everyone will celebrate with bottles of wine, beer, sake, sashimi, sushi, edamame, yakitori and Karaage. The party begins when the boss or a high ranking official makes an address and raises his/her mug of beer and says Kanpai or cheers. It’s considered impolite to drink or eat first without waiting for the address and toast.
During the party, everyone is at ease. Here you engage with small talk to your workmates and managers and join them during the light moments without the routine and formality of office culture and environment.
Dining etiquette in Japanese office canteen or restaurant involves the following:
Traditional sitting position - In a traditional dining setting, you could sit using a seiza position (your heels and legs tucked underneath your butt) if this position is uncomfortable, use the cross-legged position.
Seat according to your position or rank - The host seats in the middle of the table.
Slurp soups and noodles - Slurping ramen or udon means you like the meal and this is acceptable.
Don’t jab the food with chopsticks - This is considered unethical in table manners.
Don’t place the chopsticks vertically onto the rice bowl - A vertical chopsticks onto the heap of rice is akin to a ceremonial rice offering for the dead and this can mean bad luck.
Don’t pass the food to someone’s chopstick - Doing this is similar to transferring the cremains into the urn which is identified as a sorrowful event. If you want to share your food, place it directly into the bowl.
Don’t leave tips - Unlike western, arab and other middle eastern countries that follow tipping, the Japanese don’t observe tipping in restaurants or taxis. If you leave one, the waiter may follow you to hand out the cash you left behind.
Return the used dishes - Like other cultures, it’s polite to place the used dishes to the tray where it was before.
Say thanks after the meal - Saying “Itadakimasu” means I humbly receive or partake the meal. Then, after eating say “Gochisousama deshita: meaning thanks for the delicious meal.