Managing in Japan
Working in a Diligent, Hierarchical Culture
Bullet trains, vending machines, sprawling high-tech cities, tranquil hot spring retreats, cherry blossoms, and a swathe of ancient cultural treasures. All of this and more awaits you in Japan – a country famed for both its rich cultural heritage and its technological innovation.
Manners, hierarchy and ceremony all form an intrinsic part of Japanese culture, and learning the correct business and social etiquette will be key to gaining the respect of your new team.
In this article, we'll introduce you to the customs that you need to know to become an effective and successful leader in Japan.
This article is intended as a general guide only. It's important to use your own best judgment when managing your team, and to remain flexible when particular situations arise that require your attention.
Setting the Scene
Japan has the world's 11th-largest population, with 127 million people living in the country today. It is the third-largest economy in the world, and its currency is the Yen.
Japan consists of 6,582 islands. The four largest islands – Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyusha – represent the country's main land mass.
Japan is situated along the Pacific "ring of fire" and, as a result, experiences a high level of seismic and volcanic activity. Earthquakes are frequent, with around 1,500 recorded in the country every year.
The Japanese pride themselves on their strong work ethic. Punctuality and personal presentation are also extremely important, so it's best to arrive early at the office (preferably before your team), and to dress to impress.
Wear a well-cut suit in an understated, formal color, such as dark blue or black, if you want to make a good impression with your team. A conservative approach is best for women. Avoid high heels and jewelry, and be aware that long skirts are preferable to pants, particularly in a business setting.