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Japanese Culture and Traditions – Must-Consider Factors to Succeed in Japan

Posted by Anne Q. on December 10, 2021.

When entering the Japanese market, the first thing that might come to your mind is to make your documents and other content accessible to Japanese audiences through translation. However, only converting words from the source language into Japanese might not be enough. You also need to understand the Japanese culture and traditions to make changes or adaptions when necessary. This step is to guarantee that your content suits Japanese people tastes and avoid offending the locals.

So which aspects of the Japanese culture and traditions affect your success in this market? Let’s find out the answer in this post and learn some tips to enhance your chance of being successful in Japan.

Unique Communication Style

The lack of rejection is one of the most distinguishing features of the Japanese communication style. Because rejecting someone is considered disrespectful in Japan, the word “no” is rarely used. For the same reason, Japanese people use symbolism and usually make a request indirectly so that the other party does not feel pressured. When it comes to writing, the Japanese express themselves less clearly. Westerners usually state the most important point at the beginning or end of an essay, whereas Japanese people mention it vaguely somewhere in the middle.

Japanese Culture - Communication Style

Thus, acknowledging their communication styles is of great importance when conducting business with Japanese partners or audiences. It is essential to read between the lines and adjust your way of communication to fit Japanese people’s styles.


Learn the Japanese Cultural Symbols 

As Japan employs an indirect communication style, they use symbols in everyday life quite often. Knowing the meanings of these symbols in the Japanese culture plays an important role in your success in this market, especially when it comes to creating your brand logos, websites, and marketing campaigns.

Symbols in Japanese Culture

Check out some common symbols in the Japanese culture and their meanings:

    • Salt symbolizes purification. For example, sumo wrestlers throw salt to clean the stage. Restaurants place salt near the entrance to ward off evil spirits.
    • Sun is the most important god in Japanese culture.
    • Sakura flowers have the meaning that all of life’s beautiful things are fleeting.
    • The red/orange gate (known as a “tori” in Japanese) – In Japanese culture, the gate represents the separation of real and spiritual life. You should not walk in the middle of the road because the middle way is reserved for the gods only.


Having Bussiness Cards is a Must

In Japan, business cards (referred to as Meishi ‘名刺’) are an indispensable part of a self-introduction and demonstrate your professionalism in the business world. Even if you can’t close a deal with your Japanese partner at the time, the relationship between you and your Japanese partner does not completely end. Meishi can be considered a business contact database in Japan. Thus, as long as your partner has your business cards, you might be contacted again in the future.

Meishi - Japanese Culture

However, Japanese people are very particular about business card exchange manners, so you have to handle it with caution. Here are some tips for you:

    • Keep your business cards in a case – Cheap plastic or mental business card boxes are sold almost anywhere in Japan, even in 100-yen shops. However, when working with an important Japanese client, avoid buying these cheap cases. This is because Japanese people always pay close attention to details, from the way you dress to your accessories. Therefore, having a good leather meishi case will assist you to make a good impression and gain trust.
    • Keep your card case in an easy-to-find location – If a new face appears, you should be prepared to bring out your business case at any time. It’s bad manners to fumble and look for your cards, so you should put your case in your jacket pocket or bag (try to avoid pants pockets).
    • Hold your business card with both hands near its corners with the logo and name facing your Japanese partner.
    • Once you get a business card from your partner, look it over and read it before placing it on the table to your left, on top of your card case, when you sit down.


The Japanese Language

One of the most important parts of a culture is its language. Besides understanding different Japanese cultural customs and traditions, knowing the language well is key to getting your business closer to your Japanese audiences.

The complex writing system of the Japanese language is one of the reasons why it is regarded as one of the most difficult languages to master. The modern Japanese writing system consists of three separate scripts: Kanji (the adopted logographic Chinese characters), Hiragana, and Katakana – two phonetic alphabets. Hiragana and Katakana each have 46 characters, whereas Kanji has about 2,000 characters.

Japanese Writing

It results in a large number of words that can be written in multiple ways and are used in various contexts. To effectively use Japanese to communicate with your target audiences, working with professional native Japanese linguists is highly recommended.

The diversity of Japanese honorifics should also be paid attention to. In the Japanese language, honorific suffixes are used to refer to other people in a conversation. Suffixes (referred to as Keigo) are used at the end of people’s names to indicate the formality level. Some common honorifics you may be familiar with are Sama (様, さま), Shi ((氏、し) , San (さん), Kun (君), Chan (ちゃん), etc.

Both failing to use honorifics and using the incorrect ones are considered impolite and offensive. As a result, when it comes to conducting business in Japan, you should carefully select honorifics in order to make a good impression on target audiences.

Read more about Japanese culture and language tips for successful localization projects in the Japanese market


Basic Japanese Words and Phrases

Even when you can’t speak Japanese and have an interpreter with you when having meetings with your Japanese partner, we recommend that you know some basic sentences in Japanese to greet your partners. It’s an effective way to make a good impression.

    • Hello! ~ Konnichiwa こんにちは
    • Thank you very much! ~ Arigatōgozaimashita ありがとうございました
    • Please ~ Onegaishimasu お願いします
    • Pleasure meeting you! ~ Aete ureshī 会えて嬉しい


Other Etiquette in Japanese Culture

You should bear in mind the notable etiquette in Japanese culture that directly affects your business:

    • If you have a meeting with a Japanese partner, you are expected to arrive 5-10 minutes early, not at the start time.
    • Avoid taking or giving something by only using one hand because it’s considered extremely rude.
    • Never write someone’s name in red ink as in Japanese culture, this action relates to death.
    • Japanese people greet each other by bowing. There are different kinds of bows for different situations that you should acknowledge.

Japanese Culture - Bows


Wrap Up

If you intend to enter the Japanese market, the first critical step is to understand Japanese culture and traditions, as these factors have a significant impact on your Japanese consumer behaviour. Furthermore, being aware of these factors will save you from embarrassment or misunderstanding as a result of cultural differences between your country and Japan.

If you want to enter the Japanese market but don’t know where to begin, contact our Japanese translation experts for a free consultation.

Japanese Translation Services

GTE Localize is a professional translation agency providing high-quality Japanese translation services. We have a team of professional and native Japanese translators with a deep understanding of Japanese culture and customs to give you accurate and culturally sensitive Japanese translations.