Cultural intelligence

 
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Japan - a country of harmony

Japan is an island nation in East Asia, located in the Pacific Ocean. It is an archipelago of 6,582 islands, the four largest of which are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku which make up about 97 per cent of Japan’s land area. The population is 126 million, of which 9.1 million live in Tokyo, the capital city of Japan. The main religions are Shinto and Buddhist.

Japan's main imports are machinery and equipment, fossil fuels, foodstuffs (in particular beef), chemicals, textiles and raw materials for its industries. Coffee is also very popular in Japan and the country imports 85% of Jamaica’s coffee crop.

Although women have reached a largely equal footing with men in terms of legal rights, there remains an unspoken discrimination towards women in the workplace. Women earn 30% - 40% less than their male equivalents and are usually expected to perform lower grade tasks and to leave employment upon marriage or the birth of children. Although there has been a slight shift in this trend over recent years, change is slow.


Harmony is the guiding philosophy for the Japanese in family and business settings and in society as a whole. The Japanese educational system emphasises the interdependence of all people, and Japanese children are not raised to be independent but rather to work together.

The Japanese rely heavily on facial expressions, tone of voice and posture to tell them what someone feels, and the context in which something is said affects the meaning of the words.   The Japanese are non-confrontational and do not like to say “No”, so phrase questions so that they can answer “Yes”, e.g. “Do you disagree with this?”

In business, appointments are required and should be made several weeks in advance. Punctuality is important and you should wait to be seated in the meeting room because there is a custom regarding which party sits on which physical side of the table (which supposedly dates back to the samurai era). You may be awarded a small amount of business as a trial to see if you meet your commitments. If you respond quickly and with excellent service, you prove your ability and trustworthiness.

Business cards are exchanged with great ceremony and ritual. Ensure that your cards are printed in English on one side and Japanese on the other, and present your card with both hands, Japanese side uppermost. Treat with utmost respect any business cards which are given to you and on no account write on them or play with them.

Share your Japanese business experiences

Sources: Wikipedia, Kwintessential, worldbusinessculture.com

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