· 5 min read

Japanese Business Etiquette: Communicating Professionally in the Workplace

Explore the essential aspects of Japanese business etiquette, helping you communicate effectively and professionally in a Japanese workplace.

Explore the essential aspects of Japanese business etiquette, helping you communicate effectively and professionally in a Japanese workplace.

Greetings and Introductions

Greetings and introductions are crucial in Japanese business culture. They set the tone for the relationship and show respect to your colleagues and clients. Some key phrases to know include:

  • おはようございます (Ohayou gozaimasu) - Good morning
  • こんにちは (Konnichiwa) - Good afternoon
  • こんばんは (Konbanwa) - Good evening
  • はじめまして (Hajimemashite) - Nice to meet you (for the first time)
  • よろしくお願いします (Yoroshiku onegaishimasu) - Pleased to meet you (used after introducing yourself)

When greeting someone, always use their appropriate title, such as さん (san) for general use, or more specific titles like 課長 (kachou) for section manager, and 部長 (buchou) for department manager.


Bowing, or お辞儀 (ojigi), is an integral part of Japanese culture and is used to show respect, gratitude, and apology. Here are the three main types of bows:

  1. Eshaku (会釈): A casual bow of 15 degrees, used for greeting colleagues and acquaintances.
  2. Keirei (敬礼): A more formal bow of 30 degrees, used for greeting superiors and clients.
  3. Saikeirei (最敬礼): The most formal bow of 45 degrees, reserved for special occasions, such as apologizing or expressing deep gratitude.

Proper Language Use

In a Japanese workplace, it’s essential to use polite language, known as 丁寧語 (teineigo), and honorific language, called 敬語 (keigo). These forms show respect to others and maintain harmony in the workplace.

  • When speaking to superiors, use honorific language, such as adding お (o) or ご (go) before nouns and using です (desu) and ます (masu) verb endings.
  • Avoid using casual or slang expressions.

Exchanging Business Cards

Exchanging business cards, or 名刺 (meishi), is an essential part of Japanese business etiquette. Here are some key points to remember:

  1. Preparation: Ensure you have a sufficient supply of clean, updated business cards on hand. It’s a good idea to have one side of the card printed in Japanese.
  2. Presentation: Present your business card with both hands, holding it by the top two corners with the Japanese side facing up and towards the recipient. Bow slightly as you offer it.
  3. Receiving a card: Accept the card with both hands, taking a moment to read and acknowledge the information. Treat the card with respect, as it represents the person giving it to you.
  4. Storing cards: Place the received card in a cardholder or a designated area of your wallet or purse. Avoid putting it in your back pocket or treating it casually.

Example phrase: “これが私の名刺です。よろしくお願いします。(Kore ga watashi no meishi desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.)” - “This is my business card. Nice to meet you.”

Seating Arrangements

In Japanese business settings, seating arrangements are crucial and often follow a hierarchical order. Understanding the proper seating etiquette will help you navigate meetings and formal dining situations with confidence.

  1. Meetings: In a meeting room, the highest-ranking person usually sits at the head of the table, furthest from the entrance. Subordinates sit in descending order of rank towards the entrance. As a guest, you might be offered the seat furthest from the door, opposite the highest-ranking host.
  2. Dining: At a restaurant or banquet, the most important guest sits at the seat of honor, usually the farthest from the entrance. The second-highest-ranking guest sits opposite the guest of honor, and the remaining attendees sit in order of rank.

Gift-Giving Etiquette

Gift-giving is an essential aspect of Japanese business culture, often used to express gratitude or build relationships. Here are some guidelines for proper gift-giving etiquette:

  1. Timing: Gifts are typically given at the beginning or end of a business meeting or when visiting a company for the first time.
  2. Selection: Choose a gift that reflects your company, region, or culture, but avoid overly expensive or ostentatious items. It’s also essential to avoid giving gifts in sets of four or nine, as these numbers are considered unlucky in Japan.
  3. Presentation: Wrap the gift carefully in quality paper, preferably in traditional Japanese wrapping styles. Present the gift with both hands, bowing slightly as you offer it. If you receive a gift, accept it with both hands and express your gratitude.

Dress Code

Appearance is important in Japanese business culture, and a professional, conservative dress code is expected. Here are some basic guidelines:

  1. Men: Wear a dark-colored suit, a white or light-colored dress shirt, a conservative tie, and polished dress shoes. Keep accessories minimal.
  2. Women: Opt for a dark-colored suit or dress with a modest length, a blouse or light-colored shirt, and closed-toe dress shoes. Keep makeup and accessories minimal and conservative.


Being punctual is highly valued in Japanese business culture, and arriving late is considered a sign of disrespect. Always arrive a few minutes early for meetings and appointments, and if you are running late, call ahead to inform your host.

After-Work Socializing

After-work socializing, known as 飲み会 (nomikai), is an essential aspect of Japanese business culture. It’s an opportunity to build relationships and foster team cohesion outside of the office environment. When attending a nomikai, remember the following:

  1. Hierarchy: Respect the hierarchy and address your superiors and colleagues with the appropriate level of politeness.
  2. Drinking: Drinking alcohol is common at nomikais, but know your limits and drink responsibly. If you don’t drink alcohol, it’s perfectly acceptable to decline.
  3. Paying: In most cases, the bill will be split evenly among attendees, and sometimes the company may cover the cost.

By following these guidelines for Japanese business etiquette, you’ll demonstrate respect and professionalism in the workplace, helping you forge strong relationships and succeed in a Japanese work environment.

Back to Blog