On my third day back in the US, I'm still working on several follow-up actions from last week's meetings in Japan.  I think part of the reason re-entry was a bit difficult this time was the sheer rate and pace of the trip, similar to last year's visit to Australia/New Zealand.

Among the many nice e-mails coming over from Japan was a picture from the customer meeting at Yanmar in Osaka on Wednesday.

Image:Formal and informal in Japan

It was in this meeting that my reminders began as to how formal Japanese business culture can be.  It took a good 15 minutes for everyone in the room to introduce ourselves to each other.  I learned quickly that I had to introduce myself as "Edward Brill", because that was the phonetic spelled out in Katakana on my bi-lingual Japanese business cards.  (You're likely to get an opportunity to see these cards - somehow I had something like 1000 printed instead of the 250 that I ordered).

The real interesting day of formality was Friday, where I was privileged to work with two professional translators.  The texture of the question/answer sessions during our meetings took on added depth as I listened to questions that began with a sort of preamble, one that usually expressed appreciation for being able to ask a question, for the day's event, and for the consideration of the question.  In turn, my responses sometimes had an added upfront "thank you for the question"... which I eventually realized I needed to actually say to recognize that my audience had given a lot of consideration and thought to the type and content of questions being asked.

This is not to say that all my interactions were formal -- clearly the internal meetings had a different tone, as did the very nice dinner on Wednesday in Nagoya.  And if I had been able to stay at Yanmar longer (I had a shinkansen to catch), I suspect we would have had a nice, informal discussion after the excellent meeting.  But in a country where even the payphone has an iconified person bow to you at the conclusion of a transaction, erring on the side of formality is always the right thing, and quickly becomes comfortable.  I hope that I will be able to add to my understanding of these interactions, whether buying coffee at Starbucks or ceramics at Takashimaya, on my next visit.

Post a Comment