Many non-Japanese business people imagine Japanese to be super-serious all the time and are surprised to find that the Japanese they work with love to let their hair down after five. In fact, after-hours socializing is an important part of the business day. It’s a chance for people to form the relationships that underpin their work together. It’s also an opportunity to let off steam and smooth over some of the inevitable conflicts that come up when people work closely.
Be sure to make time in the schedule for socializing. Whereas in the west socializing might seem frivolous, for Japanese it’s central to the business relationship.
For visitors to Japan, this means planning on having dinner out every night during your visit. You may go home sleep-deprived, but you will have cemented relationships that will serve you well in the future.
For expatriates living and working in Japan, it means finding a balance that allows time for socializing but doesn’t turn it into a problem. A good compromise may be to reserve one or two days a week as your business socializing days. Let your staff know which days you are available. Also, use lunch to build relationships.
While socializing in this way is essential to doing business, it does not mean that dinners are extensions of business meetings. Quite the contrary: At many business dinners, no business is discussed at all. Avoid being the stereotypical western businessperson with the single-track-mind who can’t relax and chat over a nice meal.
Instead, be prepared to do a lot of small talk. After-hours business socializing is the chance for you and your Japanese colleagues to get to know about the non-business sides of each other’s lives. Your conversation might touch briefly on sports, but more typically will focus on hobbies, recent vacations, details about your home country, places you have lived, and so on. Avoid contentious topics, such as politics. The goal is to have a friendly conversation that cements good feelings!
Japanese business etiquette training and seminars are a specialty of Japan Intercultural Consulting. Please contact us for more information on how we can help you prepare for successful interactions with Japanese clients, customers, and business partners.