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Business Japan 102

Business Japan 102

Japanese Business Culture - "Yes" means "No" and "Yes" means "Yes". Which "Yes" is the real "Yes"?

In the Japanese culture whether it be in personal or business, there is no "no" in spoken language. Of course there is a word "no" which everyone understands but adults do not use the word "no". Then how does one communicate "no" to another?

Before answering, one needs to understand that the Japanese language is not a precise language like English. It is an imprecise language. There are so many ways to say a particular thought or a phrase that even amongst the Japanese, at times, it is difficult to really understand what one is trying to say.

It is considered impolite or rude to say negative words so precisely like saying "no". Thus if one wanted to convey a negative response, one does not say "no" but one says something else that has a clue in it. That clue is left up to the listener to figure out what was the clue and the message in the clue. Many times, people go around trying to figure out what the other person is really saying. If one deals with a particular person a lot, then one gets to understand their style of saying "no" as each individual has their own style.

The problem is for new comers or foreigners as if you are meeting a person for the first time or if you only met a few times, you are still trying to figure out what they are tying to convey to you because you do not know their refusal style.

The easy "no" answers are like "I personally like it" which is a dead give away for saying "no". Others are like "I'll see what I can do" and "We'll meet internally and discuss it".

I've often heard from my Japanese associates that foreigners, especially westerners always tries to get a "yes" answer from them to close a deal when they are not yet ready to give such an answer. However, foreigners many times make a mistake thinking that the Japanese side said "yes" because the foreigner asked the Japanese "do you agree" and the Japanese said "yes" so the foreigner thought but what the Japanese was actually saying was "yes, I understand (English) what you said but I did not say that I agree with what you said". The Japanese was merely acknowledging what the foreigner was saying. The Japanese culture also include a nodding of face to acknowledge what the other person is saying so this gesture also makes it confusing as it seems that the Japanese are agreeing to what the Westerner is saying. Combine all this with Tatemai, it increases confusion. I think the phrase "don't call us, we'll call you" is very appropriate. If the other side is interested, they will certainly progress towards a mutually beneficial relationship.

The other side of the coin is the same. Usually, Japanese do not say "yes" or show "positive reaction" directly or immediately. For example, if one offers a gift or something to a Japanese, it is customary to refuse first or the second time or even the third time even though one really wants it. This has the effect of one not being so 'eager' to receive a gift but because the other side insisted upon it many times, one merely accepted it (western somewhat equivalent to 'the devil made me do it!' syndrome - this was a term used by Skip Wilson many years ago). A westerner might say 'why go through all that trouble' but this is the custom of this land.

This is carried to an extreme in Kyoto region. If one accepts gifts, drinks tea when served and offered by a host at a business meeting the first time or the second time or the third time, one is no longer considered a person that they can do business with. In this kind of situation, one need to continue refusing and the other side continues to offer and after a while, one can accept it. This is all part of a ceremony conducted prelude to talking business. Since it is a ceremony, this is also part of Tatemai.

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