Cross cultural communication between Japanese and Western businessmen

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What are the most important communication differences to be aware of in order to carry out successful business with the Japanese?IntroductionCross cultural communication can be defined as a "process of sending and receiving messages between people who are in different cultural contexts". It is a difficult task to deal with business counterparts across cultures considering the different perspectives of different societies. Businessmen and negotiators need to be aware of national cultures along with culture dimensions and different business traditions. Japan has a long and meaningful cultural history, but from the aspects of traditional culture it is rather unique. One of the reasons could be that immigration and foreign impact has always been limited in Japan. Even though it went through seven years of American occupation, it did not seem to have influenced the Japanese communication style much. Japan's economic boom along with the US impact and the widening business relations with the West certainly introduced business negotiations in Japan, but there are still vast differences between the structure and the mechanism of Japanese and Western businesses.

In this paper I am going to introduce the cultural differences that could hinder business communication between Japan and modern Western countries. I'm aiming at covering areas such as differences between business structures and negotiations, different customs, traditions, expectations, different meanings of non-verbal communication and body language.

Japanese traditions and body languageBefore getting involved with business negotiations in Japan, Western businessmen need to be aware of the unique style of communication in general. Gestures and traditional customs might have completely different meanings than those in modern Western countries, such as Western Europe, Australia, North America or Canada. Therefore, prior to engaging into business with Japanese companies, business people need to adapt to completely different communication styles.

In most of the Asian cultures high emphasis is put on non verbal communication and body language. Variations in information requirements are closely related to high and low contexts. Nonverbal communication differences can be interpreted in particular contexts. High context cultures such as Japanese rely on facial expressions, vocal cues and silence in interpreting messages. Continuously low-context cultures, as most of the Western cultures are holding unspoken cultural rules of conduct and communication on "need to know" basis, knowledge importance, and detailed background information. The latter is less aware in interpreting unspoken language rather than high-context residents. Therefore, not being aware of the meanings of Japanese body language can result in huge misunderstandings and even in the loss of a potential business.

Before examining the Japanese etiquette we need to be aware of one's position in society and in the family. In Japan there is an important ranking system, which interferes with how the people behave with each other. It is very important to know others' social background in order to use the right type of communication. Moreover, there is a high respect for elderly people in Japan. They are perceived as the people with wisdom as learning and practising process is relatively long in Japan. Therefore, Western businessmen very often find themselves negotiating with much older business partners than they are used to in their own territories.

As it has been mentioned before, body language is highly emphasised in Japan. Additionally, different signals mean different messages in the West and in Japan. In many cases the Japanese use non-verbal signals instead of words that show their approval or dissatisfaction. The mostly used signs include inhaling through clenched teeth, frowning, tilting the head, or scratching the eyebrow.

One of the most important non verbal messages to mention is the use of...
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