Business etiquette in Japan

When doing business in Japan “ Honne“ and “ Tatemae“ are import factors to take in consideration. Many of you who have been to Asia and talked to the Japanese delegation often have the feeling that people say yes but act or do no. Also when you ask a question you get a whole story but not an answer. To understand this cultural difference you need to study a little about the Japanese culture.

In Japan its very important to keep thing is harmony direct confrontation or clashing with people is not done. This you find back in the way Japanese talk they always say “ I‘m sorry, Excuse me“ in every conversation multiple times, you can recognize this by the Japanese word “ Sumimasen“.

japanese drinking beer

An other word the Japanese don’t use regularly is the word “ No“ or “ iie“ as the Japanese say, they will always tell you in a indirect way why things can‘t be done. A Japanese employee when is getting on order from his boss to do something will never hear “ do this do that“ . This is way to direct in stead they will say: “ Isn’t it a good idea to finish this project today?“

tatemae meeting

Honne and Tatemae describe the contrast between a person’s true feelings and desires honne and the behaviour and opinions one displays in public tatemae. Honne may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one’s position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden, except with one’s closest friends. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one’s position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one’s honne.

During office and with their bosses and in official meetings Japanese are always honne. A big custom in Japanese culture is going out for food and beer after work, this is the time the Japanese become tatemae.

Honne and tatemae is not only a Japanese phenomena, you can also see it in other Asian countries but to a lesser degree and of course in the west we also have sometimes social obligations and give social responsible answers but not to the extent as being used in Japan. Also in the English vocabulary we are missing proper words to describe the Japanese terms honne and tatemae

honne japanse caractertatemae japanese caracter

 

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Erik van Berkum

Erik is a Dutchman currently living in Osaka Japan.

2 thoughts on “Business etiquette in Japan”

  1. The fact that you were not conscious of the level of the insult proves you don’t think before use words.
    I? will not treat you in the Japanese way. Japanese say nothing until the day they hurt the assaulter (who wonders what is the reason if he is as clueless as you are).
    I prefer clarity. I’m latin. Cheers

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