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Japanese cultural knowledge that could serve you well

By Josian Phillips, 

Japan is a nation of readers.

A major cultural difference you should be aware of is that the Japanese love reading. Japanese consumers, corporate or individual are much more detail and function conscious than any other nation. They expect and read and relish detailed printed materials, yes, those folded bits of paper with tiny text that we Brits just bin. Indeed, Japan has more printed publications than any other nation. Have plenty of flyers and brochures for tradeshows. Instruction manuals, consumer guides, technical information you name it. You’ll need it.


Always wrap gifts, but not in white as it symbolises death, or green, deemed unlucky, or bows, although these are more acceptable now. Red would be a safe bet as it is associated with wealth and prosperity.


Odd numbers are considered bad luck, as is the number 4, which sounds like death in Japanese. In fact the number 4 is considered bad luck through out Asia. The number 9 is associated with hardship.


Gifts and the ceremony surrounding gift giving are very important. In business and pleasure. Your present should be of a high quality; Wedgewood is well received around the globe.

  1. Wrap the gift carefully taking note of the colours and numbers listed above (don’t for example give an odd number of gifts). As gift-wrapping is like an art form in Japan (called tsutsumi) my advice is to get the hotel you are staying in, or a shop to undertake this important task. You will be judged by your packaging!
  2. As with a Japanese business card, present and receive gifts with both hands. Bow slightly.
  3. Give your gift at the end of the meeting, but warn your contact that you will be giving a gift, surprises are insensitive in this situation.
  4. You usually unwrap a gift after leaving your host, however if you do open the gift in front of your host, be sure to admire the packaging, this may be a bit strange for some of you business ‘men’ out there, but it will serve you well and make you appear very polite and sensitive.
  5. Finally, as the Japanese are very generous, best not to admire anything too much, or you may find yourself in an embarrassing situation!

The cat is not tat!

The beckoning cat, (the Maneki-neko) ubiquitous in Japan is a symbol of good luck. The colour, style, ornateness and gesture detail are all significant. White for example is good luck in this case, black is for good health, and gold is for wealth.

Further reading.

Japan: Bitesized business etiquette
Japan: The all important business card

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