Those who do business in Japan do well to understand that the country offers a culture where context is highly important. The Japanese communication style entails careful consideration of their words before speaking, with each word carrying great importance. The same holds true for nonverbal communication in Japan. 

Because of the importance of Japan in the global economy, it’s a place where many businesspeople from the United States visit on important trips. It’s critical that they understand the details of nonverbal communication in Japan. It may play an important role in the success of a business meeting. 

Examples of Nonverbal Communication in Japan 

The following list offers an introduction to some of the most important nonverbal communications in Japan. Consider it a starting point for those preparing to do business with the Japanese. 

Greetings in Japan 

In Japanese culture, bowing to the other person is a sign of respect. People bow to those they regard highly, including elders, teachers and people of high status. The other person bows back out of gratitude. Some Japanese businessmen are fine with a handshake, but expect it to be limp with no eye contact. The Japanese consider long eye contact a challenge, not a show of confidence as it is in the West. 


The Japanese tend toward conservative dress in business settings. Much like your appearance, our overall manner should be conservative, quiet and respectful. The Japanese believe deeply in saving “face,” that is, not embarrassing another in public. Politeness is the best course to follow. 

Enjoy the Silence 

The Japanese typically nod often while listening, showing they pay attention to what is said. However, there is little idle chatter. In Japan, there is no urge to fill the silence with talk, but rather to use it a time to consider what is being said.  


It’s considered rude to sit with legs crossed or slouched. The proper way to sit is upright with both feet on the floor. When standing, give the other person room. Standing too close to someone else is inappropriate. 

Control Emotions 

The Japanese consider showing emotions as a burden to the other person. They typically maintain a passive expression while speaking. A negative emotion may only get expressed with a tilt of the head or a quick inhalation.   

A Hierarchical Culture 

The Japanese business culture is hierarchical, which influences who you communicate with and even where you sit in a meeting. Typically, the highest-ranking person sits farthest from the door. Also, building personal relationships over time also is key to success in business. 

Business Cards  

The Japanese exchange business cards regularly, often offered with a small bow. Cards should be of high quality and have the rank of the person clearly labeled. Always treat business cards with a great deal of respect. 

Giving Gifts 

The Japanese also typically give gifts at the end of a meeting or event. How the gift is presented, including how it is prepared and wrapped, is as important as what is inside. Do not open the gift until you are in private. 

Working with the Japanese and businesspeople around the world is one of the most exciting aspects of business. Those who aspire to work with people from another culture will find that earning an online MBA with an international business concentration gives them the skills and knowledge they need to attain their career goals.