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6 Things You Need To Know About Doing Business In Japan - Part 2

4. Meetings are not for brainstorming or decisions.

Question: What is the difference between why Americans attend meetings and why Japanese attend meetings?

Answer: Americans send 1-2 people to a meeting to tell you everything they think you need to know. The Japanese on the other hand send 20 people to a meeting to learn everything you know.

In Japan, meetings are primarily held to acquire information. But ideas are discussed and decisions made through a long and involved consensus building process–not in single meeting, no matter how far you've flown to get there. But beware: Attempts to do otherwise can harm relations.

5. When to add '-san' to a coworker's last name, and when to go sans '-san.'

Many who have worked with the Japanese have learned to append ‘-san’ to a person’s family name when addressing them. It’s actually just one of many Japanese honorifics used to identify the relationship and social hierarchy between two people.

But while there are many similarities to how we use ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.” titles in English, there are a few notable differences to using ‘-san.’

For example, in the U.S. customers and suppliers are on equal footing. In Japan relationships aren't so balanced; the customer is deemed more important. As a gesture of deference, it is the custom to drop the '-san' at the end of a coworker’s last name when referring to him in your customer's presence.

6. If you've said "Sayonara" to someone, you might as well have said "Farewell."

There are a few words in Japanese that many Americans have heard at one time or another. And Sayonara is likely one of them. But it doesn’t exactly mean what most think it means.

A few years ago a colleague of mine, let’s call him John, told me how he learned what sayonara meant, the hard way. After months of discussion with a potential Japanese customer, a deal between the two companies finally looked imminent.

A meeting was set to go over some remaining details, at which time the Japanese customer mentioned to John that his competitor had come in with a new price quote that was significantly lower than John’s pricing.

When the Japanese customer asked if John could meet the price, John said it would be difficult, but that he would try. When the meeting ended, John turned to the customer and casually said, “Sayonara!”

The following week John contacted the Japanese customer to say that his company could match the competitor’s pricing. “But John-san, we are so sorry. We thought you were not able to meet the pricing, so we are sorry to say, we gave the business to your competitor.” John later learned that by saying "Sayonara" he was telling his customer that it was unlikely they would be hearing from him anytime soon.

You see, "Sayonara" doesn’t just mean "good-bye." It means "farewell."

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