A bow when greeting or a friendly nod at a product presentation: the Japanese are a very polite people, whether at business meetings or in everyday life. This courtesy is also reflected in the Japanese language. Japanese are very cautious in conversation or communication and often convey important messages indirectly, meaning that they do not always come across clearly to their counterpart. They not only maintain this courtesy in their mother tongue, but also adapt it to English – a language that not all Japanese people master equally well.
On the other side are Swiss companies, who are accustomed to an open and direct manner, often addressing problems directly and focusing on solutions. But English is a foreign language for Swiss people too, which means that both parties are unable to express themselves in their mother tongue and bring their own cultural background with them. This situation can quickly lead to communication problems and misunderstandings between Swiss and Japanese.
Advice: Be aware of the differences in communication with Japanese people. Aim for an exchange with your business partner, listen to your gut, ask politely about any ambiguities and promote dialogue. Instead of emailing your Japanese distributor, pick up the phone.
2. Nurturing the relationship
You also get a better understanding of Japanese business partners’ communication by nurturing the relationship. This is key to success in the Japanese market. Distributors in Japan will strive to get Swiss products to the right customers, but once a Japanese business partner feels neglected, they will tend to focus on distributing other products in their portfolio. The problem will be hardly or only very indirectly spoken about. Avoid this situation by seeking good business relationships and promoting a regular exchange – visit your Japanese business partner several times a year or invite them to visit Switzerland. You can combine such a visit with a tour of your company premises. In addition to business relationships, you should also place importance on personal connection. Get to know the business partner's family, go to karaoke together or meet for a drink. This is so important for the Japanese that they even developed their own word for it: “Nominication”. This word is composed of the Japanese verb “nomu” (drink) and communication.
Advice: Even though Japan is a few thousand kilometers away from Switzerland, you should meet with your Japanese business partner at least twice a year and nurture the relationship intensely. Having a good business relationship facilitates communication, keeps business brisk, and will literally pay off.
Support from S-GE
Even if you nurture the relationship with your business partner and you are aware of the communicative differences, problems can still arise. In these cases, Switzerland Global Enterprise can support Swiss exporters right on the ground. A representative of the Swiss Business Hub Japan can visit the business partner on request or attend joint meetings to clarify cultural misunderstandings. If you have any questions regarding export to Japan, get in touch with our adviser Jacqueline Tschumi. Email