If a foreign company wants to enter the Japanese market, learning the language is not enough. Even if you speak really well, faux pas slow down your business and harm your credibility. Whether you want to create a website, post on social media or meet professionals, there are a few things you should pay attention to. You can also read about the Japanese business etiquette to know the dos and don’ts when participating in professional meetings.
Color meanings change depending on countries and sometimes regions, so it is important to know them in order to avoid delivering the wrong message.
Black: both positive and negative, it represents elegance, sexuality and wealth as morning, sadness or anger. Usually, the combination of white and black are used for mourning or in other sad situations.
White: it symbolizes purity and is worn during the marriage. The bride ‘takes off’ her family colors to ‘take on’ her new family colors. It is also a synonym of innocence, sacredness, humility and simplicity.
Blue: it represents stability, calm, peace, immortality, loyalty or depression (it is not associated with men as in Europe or America).
Red: while in the West, it is a synonym of passion and excitement, in Japan it represents happiness, celebration, life or anger and danger. It is often used by web designers in Japan. Check out what color to make your Japanese website for further details.
Orange: the color of bravery, warmth and love, as opposed to the West where it is associated with harvest and fall.
Yellow: it represents royalty, optimism or idealism, not adultery as in the West.
Green: the color of good luck (or misfortune), nature, fertility, youth, jealousy or envy.
Purple: synonym of wealth, nobility, royalty, spirituality or cruelty, arrogance and mourning.
Pink: it represents femininity, marriage, innocence, children or flirt.
Brown: mourning, earth, hearth, outdoor, comfort, endurance or simplicity.
It is common knowledge that the numbers 4 and 9 are unlucky in Japan. Try to avoid using them, for prices or the name of your products. The first one is pronounced like ‘death’ (shi) and the second can be pronounced like ‘agony’ (ku). Some global companies, however, chose to keep those numbers. When the PlayStation 4 was released, but people called it the ‘PlayStation Four’ (フォー fou) and not ‘PlayStation Shi’. It is the same for games like Mario Party 4 or Ace Attorney 4.
Gestures and Body Language
Some gestures have different meanings in Japan and some are seen only there, so let’s take a look at it.
Eye contact: it is rude or aggressive to stare at someone, even during a conversation. Japanese prefer looking somewhere else, like the person’s neck or the ground.
‘Come here’: unlike in the West, the palm of your hand faces the ground (the hand being above your head) and your fingers move.
Say ‘goodbye’: there is no physical contact when you say goodbye to someone (except for close friends, usually girls). Just wave at your friend or bow when it is in a professional setting – and offer your business card if you have not done it yet. For further information about Japanese business cards and bowing, click here!
‘Sorry’ / Asking for a favor: clap your hand (once) in front of you and stay like that for one or several seconds.
Counting: you start with your thumb closed (1), then the thumb and index closed (2), etc. until all your fingers are closed (5).
Indirect ‘no’: place your hand onto the back of your head and expel hair through your teeth (it is more common for men) or rock your hand back and forth in front of you (more common for women). Your facial expression should show that you are sorry, like for regret.
Show a direction: in Japan, even more than elsewhere, you don’t point at something or someone. Use your whole hand and turn your body to the direction you want to indicate.
‘Let’s eat/drink somewhere’: do as if you were eating ramen, with a hand grabbing a bowl and the other holding chopsticks. In the same way, grab a fake cup and do as if you were about to drink. It is better to use it with your friends or colleagues only, not with superiors or customers.
Gestures You Should Avoid
- As said before, don’t point at someone or something.
- Don’t cross your arms during a conversation, especially if you don’t know well the other person. However, you can cross your arms and close your eyes when you think to show that you are really trying to figure something out.
- When you are in a professional setting, don’t put your hands in your pockets and don’t slouch. Show that you are listening and genki (vigorous).
- Don’t take more space than you need when you sit on the train or on a bench.
To know more about Japanese business etiquette, it’s over there!
We hope that your next visit to Japan or your next meeting will go perfectly well! But the best way to learn a culture is through a trial-and-error process, through experience, so ganbatte kudasai!
Reference: kotaku.com/how-a-japanese-death-superstition-could-impact-the-next-5897372 www.webdesignerdepot.com/2012/06/color-and-cultural-design-considerations/ kaliskrystals.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/japanese-colour-meanings/ www.tofugu.com/japan/japanese-body-language/ blog.gaijinpot.com/japanese-body-language-7-key-gestures-learn/ www.fluentu.com/blog/japanese/japanese-gestures/