Guest lecture explores Japanese culture and business etiquette

Paul Smith

Shinka Management Director and University of Adelaide alumni Dr Paul Smith

The Department of Asian Studies recently hosted a guest lecture on Japanese Business Culture and Etiquette, as part of the Introduction to Asian Cultures course.

Students were introduced to the key features of Asian countries, with a particular emphasis on communication and negotiation strategies. Topics included cultural differences, language, social interaction, management practices, government, and diplomacy, to develop students' capability to be effective in a cultural and business sense in Asia.

Throughout the semester, guest speakers are invited to share their experiences working within an Asian context. For the Japanese section of the course, students were joined by Shinka Management Director and University of Adelaide alumni Dr Paul Smith. Paul led a discussion with students on the topic of doing business with the Japanese and introduced the key skills required for successfully negotiating Japan from a business perspective. He covered the key characteristics of Japanese culture, management practices, and business customs.

Paul emphasized the importance of understanding the role of hierarchy and authority in Japanese culture, and provided several examples as to how hierarchy influences language and action in business practices. The discussion built on the awareness that the students had gained through their earlier study of the 2003 movie Lost in Translation, which included coverage of the role of hierarchy and the use of honorifics in Japanese communication.

Another key aspect of Japanese business etiquette that Paul highlighted was the formal decision-making process that exists in many medium and large size organisations in Japan. Paul discussed how decisions are often made through a consensus-based approach, with a focus on building relationships and trust between team members, and how as a result the process can often take longer compared with Western cultures. The discussion included an introduction to the role of nemawashi for consensus building, and the ringi form for documenting proposals and gaining buy-in and approval from internal stakeholders.

Paul completed his talk by providing our students with tips for improving effectiveness in communicating with Japanese counterparts, as well as advice for engaging and working with translators and interpreters.

Students gaine valuable insights into Japanese business culture and etiquette, and learned that understanding and respecting Japanese business customs and practices is crucial for building successful business relationships in Japan. Students discovered that taking the time to learn about Japanese culture and etiquette will help them build the skills to effectively navigate business interactions in Japan.

Paul completed his undergraduate studies in Engineering at the University of Adelaide in 1999 before completing Masters and PhD studies at Kyoto University through a Japanese Government scholarship. He has over 30 years of experience living, working, and doing business with Japan and previously chaired the Japan Australia Business Council locally for a period of six years. Together with his colleagues at Shinka Management, Paul supports clients in over 60 countries with consulting, training, and study tours focused on Japanese management practices such as lean manufacturing and kaizen.

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