In preparation for my upcoming trip to Japan, I’ve been doing a little research on business etiquette that’s revealed some interesting tips for surviving and perhaps, thriving in the culture.


Some are painfully obvious: like avoiding the Second World War as a topic of conversation; while others are more than a little curious: like ski jumping being a recommended topic. What little I know of ski jumping can only get me into trouble!

Then there’s the “Smoke, or at least tolerate it” piece of advice for business travellers. All I can say is that I survived Copenhagen, whose inhabitants seemed to be doing their level best to win the title of “most smoky social environments on the globe”, so I consider myself prepared.

But being in the land of the infamous Kobe beef (and a bunch of other beef types currently being ripped off in the US with shameless marketing zeal), I am surprised to learn that “frozen beef is recommended as a business gift”. I can see it now, “XXXXXX-san, tsumaranai mon*, but please accept this pastel-wrapped package and keep it under 40F.”

[* Literally means ?an uninteresting or dull thing?, but is meant to convey that ?our relationship is more important than this trivial item.?]

Worse still, what if someone presents me with a delectable pound of priceless Kobe? I can see it now… completing the US customs form: ‘Are you bringing in any animal or vegetable products?’ Or perhaps they have those rabid Beagle packs checking in-bound Japanese luggage. The Beagles are trained to sniff out biltong on South African flights; perhaps there are canine crews who are Kobe trained!

And speaking of customs forms, I’ll finally be able to satisfy myself about whether the Japanese one really does ask you to declare your swords.

There is certainly one piece of Japanese culture that might prove useful to anyone caught in, for example, a particularly tedious meeting or uninspired presentation. Just say that, like the Japanese, “I was trying to listen carefully to what was being said, which might have appeared to be as if I was sleeping with my eyes closed.”

One “rule” I am going to wilfully break is: ‘Do not spend your spare time sightseeing.’ Of course I don’t have that much spare time as it is, but who could resist wanting to submerge themselves in this rich culture? And the bets are on as to how many times I might be mistaken for being Japanese. It happens fairly frequently in the US that I am mistaken by Japanese people for being Japanese, but in Japan? Watch this space…

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