Bridging cultures: guest lecture in Japanese business etiquette

Eri Dennis Shinka smiles

Eri Dennis Shinka

In April the University of Adelaide hosted a guest lecture by Eri Dennis, a local expert in Japanese business practices and cultural norms.

Organised by the Department of Asian Studies within the School of Social Sciences as part of the Introduction to Asian Cultures undergraduate course, this session provided students with an understanding of the intricacies of Japanese business culture and etiquette, a critical component for anyone looking to engage professionally with Japan.

Eri covered several important topics, such as the significance of hierarchy in Japanese companies, nuanced protocols for conducting business meetings, the correct use of names and titles, and the ceremonial approach to the exchange of business cards. Each of these topics shed light on the formal and tradition-rich corporate culture of Japan.

Understanding the hierarchical structure is paramount, as it influences all forms of communication and decision-making in Japan. Respect for this hierarchy helps foreign professionals appreciate the collective and consensus-driven approach typical in Japanese businesses. The students learned about the importance of punctuality, which in Japan is a sign of respect and professionalism, and how seating arrangements in meetings reflect the status of attendees, emphasising the blend of tradition and formality in Japanese corporate life.

Another topic of interest to the students was the use of honorifics and titles, which is not merely a linguistic formality but a crucial part of respecting social and business hierarchies. Additionally, the exchange of business cards, or meishi, which is taken very seriously in Japan, was highlighted as a ritual-like process that reflects one's respect for the other party.

As a NAATI-accredited professional level English-Japanese interpreter and translator, Eri shared her experience and advice related to intercultural communication. Eri provided hints on how to improve the clarity and effectiveness of communication when working with users of English as a second language.

For students of Asian Studies, gaining insights into these skills and etiquette nuances is invaluable. It prepares them for potential careers in international relations, business, or diplomacy in Asia and enhances their cultural empathy and competence—skills that are prized in today’s globalised economy, beneficial for career advancement, and crucial for companies aiming to establish or maintain successful collaborations with Japanese firms.

Eri Dennis currently works as a consultant for Adelaide-headquartered Shinka Management, a global consultancy specialising in Japanese management practices, including lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System. Her role over the past eight years has included the organisation and leadership of numerous kaizen and kaikaku-themed study tours to Japan. Eri has facilitated Australian prime ministerial and ministerial visits to Japan through her previous role with the Public Diplomacy Section of the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, and her career commenced as an in-house translation specialist with IBM Australia.

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