Commuter trains are so packed in Tokyo that people are almost on top of each other. In fact, they are so overcapacity that people are pushed into the train by the station itself. It’s a strange but everyday reality in Tokyo for many business people. And even though they are packed in shoulder to shoulder, they don’t acknowledge one another.
What’s interesting is when it comes time to meet another professional, having a good amount of personal space is very important. In Japan, people feel uncomfortable being hugged. They normally don’t shake hands, and prefer to stand at arm’s-length distance. If you take a step closer than that, you might make your business partner feel uncomfortable and you may be seen as unprofessional. So, a good tip is to respect the personal space and watch where you stand, especially for a first meeting.
A great way to connect without getting too personal is by giving a small gift. Gift giving is common way to warm up the relationship in Japan. Consider a small but thoughtful gift like something local to your business or home state. It’s not the price or value of the gift that counts, but rather the thought of choosing the gift that communicates your thoughtfulness.
When gift giving, be sensitive to the business your partner is in. Obviously, don’t give Starbucks coffee beans to a company who sells coffee beans, or golf balls to a golf ball manufacturer. In Japan, people even pay attention to the related companies or business partnerships, so they make sure not to give a gift that would come from a competitor brand.
We previously discussed how language barriers may be challenging for your international business communication, but these unspoken ways of communicating can help make a great first impression.