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Dos and don'ts

Business Etiquette 

Correct pronunciation is important. 
If a name is written in the correct Japanese order, the family name is first, followed by the first name. Unless you know someone very well, you should use their last name with the courtesy phrase –san.
Greet the highest ranked person first, then the second highest, etc.

Appointment Etiquette

Do not be late to meetings.
Make sure you are well-prepared.

Business Card Etiquette

Remember to bring enough business cards! 

Use a cardholder.

Hold the card in both hands, make sure your name is facing the recipient, and bow politely. You will receive a card in return, in the same way. 

You should treat the card with respect. Look at it and feel free to place it in front of you on the table if you receive a card in connection with a meeting.

Don't write on your counterpart’s business card. The business card is considered to be a person's face, so it would be equivalent to writing on their face.

Important to note

Firstly, you should be aware that you will be forgiven many sins since you are a Gaijin (foreigner), and therefore do not know better. You will be doubly forgiven if you show sincere interest in the country.

Learn some Japanese phrases before you arrive, such as 'thank you', 'good morning' and 'I don't understand'.

A very useful word is sumimasen, or 'pardon me'. The word can be used to get someone's attention or to apologize for minor accidents, for example, to summon a waiter's attention or if you bump into someone on the street. 

Important to note

When talking to a Japanese person they may say hai, hai eeh or ah so desuka? Although this may sound like acceptance, it only means that the person is listening. 

Be aware that Japanese people don't like to say "no." Instead, they sometimes turn their heads to the side and say "Maybe, I'm not sure." This does not mean maybe!

Dress Code 

In Japan, you should wear a suit when doing business, and it should be dark blue, grey or black.
Women should wear a blazer or a dress.

Shaking hands

In Japan, you do not shake hands - you bow. The deeper the bow, the higher the esteem you show the person.

Body language

Think carefully about how you sit in meetings.
Never cross your legs, do not show the soles of your shoes, do not cross your arms, and do not lean back and stretch your legs.

Exchanging gifts

Giving and receiving gifts in Japan is a ritual. No matter how expensive or great a Japanese gift is, it is often presented with the words: "I'm afraid it's not particularly nice." Of course, you should then humbly reject the claim.

Gifts are usually beautifully wrapped, and tearing them up is seen as rude. Japanese people often don't open gifts right away, but spend time admiring the package and the moment, and ask if they can open it a little later. Don't get too excited by answering "of course!" Be humble.

Suitable gifts

Gifts given in meeting situations and when visiting companies are often the kind that can be shared and eaten in the workspace. Norwegian Twist sweets and milk chocolate hearts tend to be popular.

Flowers are a good gift to give to a host, but do not give a large bouquet, as this is considered unaesthetic, inappropriate, and wasteful. Give three or a maximum of seven flowers, perhaps one or two of which are still in bloom, and one or two green stems.

Do not:

  • DON’T refer to yourself as, for example, " Bjørn-san" if your name is Bjørn. San is used to refer to others, not oneself 
  • DON’T tip
  • DON’T have loud conversations 
  • DON’T blow your nose in front of others
  • Do not hand money over from hand to hand: 
  • In Japan, money is rarely passed directly from hand to hand. This means that when you purchase an item or service, you don't hand money directly to the cashier. Instead, place your payment (whether cash or credit card) on the small tray provided. If change is due, your change will be placed there for you as well.
  • Do not refer to the Japanese as Japs, Japser, Japster. This is extremely offensive to the Japanese ear. Presentations may occasionally include "JAP" as an abbreviation for Japan. This is also very, very wrong. It's like going into the German market and calling everyone "Krauts". Don't bring Norwegian Japp chocolate bars as presents!
  • Do not give knives as gifts, or anything in quantities of 4 or 9 – as these are unlucky numbers (e.g. 4 flowers)
  • Never pour your own alcohol. You should serve someone else alcohol, who will then return the favour. It’s also important to use both hands when serving.


  • Mute your phone in public places
  • Use the towel given to you at restaurants, but not on your face!
  • When travelling through Japan, you’ll find yourself having to take your shoes off frequently. For this reason, one of our top basic packing tips for a trip to Japan is to bring shoes that slip on and off easily. Bring good socks, too – they’ll be on display often!

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