Working with Japanese colleagues can be a wonderful experience. And you can better collaborate with them when you learn about both the Japanese language and culture. As an island country, Japan had a period of isolation that solidified its cultural practices. Today, this long-standing culture, rich in tradition and poise, sets the tone for Japanese work culture.

If you will be working in Japan or even meeting with Japanese clients or colleagues in your own country, here are some useful tips.

1. Introduce yourself formally and respectfully.

Pass your business card to a Japanese person using two hands. Turn the business card to be facing the person you are passing it to. Give a slight bow of the head to show reverence. Japanese people are known to greet with a basic introduction and a bow, but will acclimate to a handshake to immerse themselves into another culture. This goes for saying goodbye as well: Japanese people will walk you out to your car and bow as you are pulling away.

2. Offer and receive small gifts.

Working side by side in the office, it is common to receive small treats or snacks from your Japanese co-workers. This is a way for them to break the ice and show they are friendly and part of the team. Walking through a Japanese office space, it is normal to see bottles of tea and deep-fried rice cakes known as senbei on desks.

3. Communicate with care.

To better communicate in English with Japanese colleagues, speak slowly and separate your words instead of connecting them. Remember, though, that speaking louder won’t help them understand what you’re saying. If all else fails, write down your message. Japanese people usually do well with English written down for them to read. (This is true for anyone using their second language, but applies even more so for Japanese people, since their English tests are all written, not spoken). If you write down your message, they can grasp the idea more easily or put it into a translator.

4. Try this “magic phrase.”

Want to truly impress a Japanese client or co-worker? At the end of the day or just passing them in the hall, say “Otsukaresama desu.” This signifies that you appreciate their hard work. Saying it is a common practice when leaving the office.

5. Join the party.

On to more festive topics! The Japanese have many work parties. More formal parties celebrate things like the start or end of the year or a retirement or wedding. And then there are more casual parties known as “nomikai” where they can show off their singing skills at karaoke and drink until it is bedtime. It is customary to stay at the party until the head boss goes home.

In the end, the best thing to remember is to enjoy learning about a new culture and realize that this opportunity is unique and exciting. Your Japanese colleagues will be loyal to their co-workers and enjoy a laugh with you during and after work.
When you take the time to get to know each other, collaborating with them will be one of your most rewarding work experiences.

If you plan on relocating to Japan or making trips there frequently, Fluency Corp recommends taking at least 100 hours of Japanese language training. Learning some of the language of your clients or coworkers will show them great respect and will make you stand out. It will also transform your relationship with them and even how you see the world around you. Fluency Corp will be happy to ensure you connect with your Japanese colleagues or clients. Contact us for a free consultation at or (800) 401-3159.