Doing Business in Japan

3 impliedly signs if the Japanese client is interested in doing business with you

One of the biggest obstacles you will have to deal with when doing business with Japanese is that they don’t show their intentions clearly. If you ask them „Would you like to work with us or not?“ you won’t get any clear answer that would satisfy you or your boss. „Maybe“, „in the future“, „let me check in with others in the company“ will be the most common responses you will hear. It confuses European managers who need to get a clear yes or no to propose further business strategy.

As we know that „Japanese people avoid giving a clear answer”, it will be a tough task to get them declare things on spot. People who know Japanese business culture well learned not to ask any direct questions.

In this article we will teach you how to read the early signs that might indicate whether the Japanese company will work with your or not. You will learn how to read your Japanese client’s behavior without asking him direct questions.

Body language

Human body language shows the real intentions behind people’s actions that formed in their subconsciousness. S. Freud found out that unconscious desire manifests in an unintentional form like a misstatement. These are most common signs to tell your partner’s intentions in Japanese culture context;

  • „Folding arms“ stands for a rejection.
  • „Playing with the hair“ indicates boredom.
  • „Looking away“ implies lying.
It may show “rejection” in the Japanese context

These early signs will help you understand whether your Japanese partner is interested in what you have to offer. Paying attention to them will teach you how tell if there are chances for a successful business partnership.

Setting an appointment without problems (most likely means „yes“)

The first sign of „yes, I will work with your company“ that you can observe from their behavior is whether they agreed to arrange a meeting with you easily. When setting up an appointment you might want pay attention to how much time your client took to give their response. If the appointment was easily arranged, i.e., Japanese client gave you a couple of possible dates, it means they are interested in your company at a certain level.

However, if you they didn’t provide you with any concrete dates and times, or worse, when you had to call them over and over again just to talk them into having any meeting with you, it means they are not interested in your company.

The potential client doesn’t hesitate to have a dinner with you (most likely means “yes”)

Having dinner together (especially accompanied by some alcohol) has a specific meaning in Japanese culture. Unlikely to European culture, Japanese people will have dinner only with someone they find trustworthy. If you got an appointment with your Japanese client, it means „I trust you and I am very interested in working with you”.

Does going out for a dinner with a Japanese client mean that we can start our business partnership already? Unfortunately, the answer is no. If you invite your potential client to a dinner before building enough trust, it might have the opposite effect and they even might not show up at all. They may think “Hmm, this European guy invited me to a dinner even though we don’t know each other well, weird.
The timing has to be right to get your potential client agree on having a dinner with you. To learn more what to talk about by the diner table we recommend reading this article (Good and bad topics while talking with Japanese businessmen at dinner).

Dinner with alcohol eases the conversation

The potential client will visit your company overseas (is a sure “yes”)

You can tell if a Japanese company is seriously interested in doing business with if they visit your company/showroom/factory located abroad without saying directly “I will work with you”. If they visit your company abroad, their intentions are clear.

Why is that? First, to travelling abroad requires many internal meetings in the Japanese company. The whole management ( starting with CEO and ending on business managers) has to approve of that trip. If all of them agree to send their representative to visit your company it means they want to start doing business with you, otherwise they wouldn’t invest time and money just to see your company.

To strengthen your partnership we advise you to share the cost of your client’s visit, it means that “the flight ticket should be covered by Japanese side, but hotel and dinner fees should be paid by the host”. If your company pays for everything including airplane ticket, Japanese side won’t feel well about that.

Once Japanese client visits your company, having another dinner and friendly conversation is highly recommended. Try not to pressure them as in some cases they cannot make a conclusion right away. Again, your Japanese client needs time to discuss everything internally after returning to Japan.

M.Sc. in Human Resource Management, Project Manager based in Germany