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


No fire in the hall

This is a double sign: first not allowed to smoke otherwise we have fire in the hall. Also you have to be careful with your steps, “Caution Step”

No fire in the hall caution step

Featured image thanks to Ken Funakoshi

Foreign Language Bookstore Beijing

To get some good English or other none Chinese language books in Beijing go to Foreign Languages Bookstore

It located in the city center of Beijing and they have a 3 story building with most English books, a large Japanese section and some books in French and Spanish.

Beijing Foreign Languages bookstore

On the first floor they have a large section of maps and tourist guides for China and Beijing.

Beijing Walks: Like a Flying Feather Through the HutongsI highly recommend the book Beijing Walks from Mao Xiang if you stay for a longer time in Beijing and want to discover Beijing on foot. The book has 16 nice walks: Walking through old Beijing hutongs, you will pass or visit many sites that you cannot find in any other tourist guide books, such as the last emperor’s mansion, princes palaces, residences of famous historical figures, temples and churches, old Embassy Row, imperial government offices, famous commercial streets with old shops, as well as mysteries and stories behind the walls. Pictures and maps are also provided to guide you in each walk. Background information enriches your knowledge about the events and stories once happened in this imperial capital.

101 Stories for Foreigners to Understand Chinese PeopleAnother great book that I discovered getting adjusted to the Chinese is: 101 Stories for Foreigners to Understand Chinese People. This book is a collection of 101 anecdotes and cultural learning’s, to explain everyday Chinese customs and etiquette to foreigners. And this book is a decidedly informal and humorous one, not an academic discourse on modern Chinese culture!

There is also a Spanish edition available 101 Histroias para que los extranjeros entiendan a los chinos



Beijing Foreign Languages bookstoreBeijing Foreign Languages bookstore

Overview of the first floor Foreign Languages Bookstore in the famous Wangfujing shopping street, Dongcheng, Beijing.


Featured image thanks to Erica Breetoe