Japanese business meetings: preparation is king


by Gerhard Fasol


Assume that your Japanese meeting partners will be better prepared than you, e.g. in the case of patent licensing negotiations assume that they have studied all surrounding patents and relevant data. We have assisted European companies in licensing negotiations with Japanese corporations, where the European side learnt surprising new facts they had not been aware of from the Chief of the Patent Section of the Japanese negotiations partners, obviously wearing the European side’s position.

Nemawashi: in traditional Japanese corporations, typically many people have to agree to important decisions. In the case of important decisions, the Board of Directors will also have to agree. Nobody wants to be surprised with unexpected developments, so in order to achieve smooth decisions, it is much better you hold preparatory meetings with a number of relevant people in the company you are negotiating with.
Prepare language support. Explore which language will be used at the meeting: Japanese, English or another language. If language support, interpretation is necessary, this needs to be prepared in advance. Don’t make assumptions.

Meeting | discussion | negotiation content

Don’t believe every rumor about Japan. As an example: Japanese people are very well capable of saying “no”, or rejecting request and they very often do. Its just that the code of how to express rejections may be different than in straight communication countries like Scandinavia or USA. To reject a request in polite situations, Japanese people may suck air through their teeth, or they might say, “I think this is difficult”, or they might say “I will consider your request and let you know”, or “I need to ask my boss/CEO, and will let you know the response”. The response “hai” or “riyoukai”, just means that your partner understood what you said, it does not express agreement with the content or the request.

Don’t make assumptions and don’t take “no” for an answer. I have taken part in many negotiations between Foreign and Japanese corporations, where the Japanese answer to a particular request of the foreign company was “no”. In several cases, I just asked the Japanese side: “why no?”. In several cases it turned out that the Japanese side’s objection could be overcome relatively easily with a work-around, leading to agreement and the desired action by the Japanese side.


Be on time. Keeping time is a basic issue of politeness. Especially be on time if you think that you have a stronger negotiating position. The agreed time of the meeting is the time the discussions begin at the meeting table. You need to arrive at the reception at least 15 minutes before agreed meeting time. Allow for mistakes in reaching the address. Better take trains, taxis can be delayed by traffic. Double check where you have to go. Check train times on online “norikae-annai” (乗り換え案内) sites.
Take enough business cards.

There are elaborate traditional rules of who sits where, leave this to the assistants who bring you into the meeting rooms, in case of doubt just ask where they recommend you to sit. Typically as a guest you will sit with the most beautiful picture behind you, to make your background look better.


Fast response in Japan is measured in hours typically, or in days, depending on the case. But never in weeks.

Typical speed of response in Japan is 24 hour turn-round in most cases


After-meeting dinner or drinking sessions are very often used to exchange views or opinions, or background information, which are kept out of formal meetings. Make good use of lunches, dinner, and drinking.

Especially medium sized European companies or start-ups often ask us what level entertainment is required for sales meetings with Japanese corporation. I believe a good answer is: if the product is unique and your products or services have a strong competitive advantage, then you should sell the product via their technical strength, not via expensive entertainment.

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