There are a number of key issues integral to developing a successful business relationship with the Japanese. There’s no secret about them, they’re obvious and universal, including consistency and quality of the product, reliability of supply, and cost competitiveness, but not necessarily the cheapest.
A lesser obvious but essential key to success is the nature of the business relationship. Japanese business people – in management positions these are mostly men, so the term ‘businessmen’ covers most situations – place a lot of emphasis and importance on developing a friendship and relationship with the people they deal with in their work.
Hence, in choosing a business connection, such as a supplier, how they view the future prospects of their relationship with that person will be one of the factors considered, along with the usual others such as product quality, reliability of supply, and so on.
To find a reason for this approach, and better understand why it exists, it’s helpful to know something about the life of a Japanese businessman, which revolves around his work, and to a lesser extent family, the two rarely coinciding. If he has a relatively lengthy commute to work, he might see little of his family during the week, and also on Saturday, with children having their own commitments then. Sunday is his only chance for real interaction with his family.
Stereotypes abound of the typical Japanese businessman, and whilst there is nowadays some blurring around the edges of these, they are still largely applicable. Men enjoy, in many cases too much, unwinding after work, usually with male colleagues, occasionally including an unmarried female colleague, who would most likely not be in a managerial position.
This takes place at some kind of bar or restaurant, in fact anywhere food and alcoholic beverages are sold. As a consequence of this tendency to eat and drink straight after work, businessmen generally do not socialise with their wives during the week.
It’s natural that businessmen want to include in this practice associates and executives from companies they deal with. It can be a good way of discussing business, and strengthening contacts and connections, perhaps developing new ones. Over time, life-long friendships are formed in this manner, which is partly what each of the men is seeking in pursuing these after-work activities.
As a consequence, their natural tendency to establish business ties with people they feel more inclined towards spending their after-hours time with, and with whom they believe they would enjoy doing business. All the more, when considering that Japanese companies like to establish long-term, lasting business connections.
As part of the process of establishing a new business arrangement between Japanese companies, or a Japanese and overseas company, the Japanese executives will want to get to know, in a more personal way, the people they’ll be dealing with in the other company. They want to get a good feel of them as people, rather than just business associates, before agreeing to any deal, to feel as sure as possible beforehand that they’ll be comfortable working together into the future.
A Japanese man’s job and career are the most defining feature of his life. A good proportion of men put this ahead of their family, usually out of necessity because there are a great deal of job transfers around Japan, and to overseas locations also.
Apart from their family, and this might well be questioned in some cases, business relationships are the main focus of a Japanese businessman’s after-hours pursuits. This can make for an unhealthy lifestyle, with excessive drinking and eating, leaving only weekends for any kind of sport or recreation.
Once a Japanese company establishes a connection with an overseas company, it will want to nurture and develop the connection with regular contact, including at least annual face-to-face meetings. For this purpose, it’s helpful for any people from the other country intending to visit Japan to have some awareness of normal behaviour there, which will inevitably include after-hours eating and drinking.
Apart from naturally wanting to continually learn about their overseas colleague’s company, its products and performance, the Japanese businessmen will be interested to learn about their colleague’s life, his or her family, hobbies, home and other aspects of daily life.
This isn’t any form of invasion of privacy, just part of their natural inclination to want to get closer to and better know their business associates. It is a process to be embraced and enjoyed, without any need to give away business or personal secrets, and the attention received should be reciprocated in the home country when the Japanese associates visit there.
© Copyright 2014 SJ Peterson