Omedetou gozaimasu! You're in for a treat -- and a roller coaster ride. Knowing some of the basics will help you make those all-important first impressions postive.
1. Wear comfortable clothes on the plane. Carry businessclothes with you to change into upon arrival if you must, but trust me, you'll be happier in sweats. Drink lots of water, too! The better mood you arrive in, the better impression you'll make.
2. Carry businesscards (meishi) with you at all times -- printed in both Japanese and English. Learn meishi protocol -- accept someone's businesscard with both hands, do not crumple up or casually toss meishi around, and never leave meishi behind. I watched one foreigner during a conference take my boss' meishi with one hand, put it in his back pants pocket, and toss his own meishi down on the table. He might as well have spit on the table too -- my boss didn't twitch an eyelash, but there's no doubt that he was disgusted.
3. Know some basic greetings like "Hi, my name's Jane Smith" and "I'm pleased to meet you". Don't be afraid to bow as well as shake hands. Yes, bowing is a whole other language, but no one expects you to know it. Expect that the main people you're meeting know something about you.
4. Be prepared for what may seem like personal questions: "Are you married?" "How old are you?" and so on are not considered out of bounds, even for a first encounter. When I was out with various Japanese section and department heads, it wasn't uncommon for them to ask me why I wasn't married yet and if I would consider marrying a Japanese man. I recommend smiling and answering in an oblique manner.
5. Be prepared to be taken out by colleagues and clients. Taking people out and showing them a good time is part of the culture, whether you're a new hire in a Japanese company or just visiting. Some things to keep in mind:
6. Be observant. The Japanese have a saying: "Silence is golden". Loud, continuous talking will not get you anywhere. If you're going to be working with a group of people for awhile, make a point of listening and being ready to make small talk.
7. If this is your first trip to Japan and you are a customer, you're not expected to bring any gifts. However, if you're a student going to on a homestay program, a new hire to a Japanese firm, or a sales representative it's a good idea to have something small but nice from your area to give away to the appropriate people.
8. Dress conservatively. If you're visiting, stick to grays, blacks and whites. As a local hire, once a month I wore a bright purple suit just to keep myself sane, but if you're new on the block and especially if you're a woman, wearing red is a bad idea unless you want to seem promiscuous.
9. Don't confuse politeness with friendship. And don't expect that a relaxed evening after work will translate into a relaxed exchange with the same people over the copier the next day. Work is work, the karaoke place is the karaoke place.
10. Just because the Japanese are quiet, or don't speak English confidently doesn't mean they don't understand spoken English -- chances are they do. Choose your words carefully and respectfully.
11. If you're going to work for a Japanese company, there are some key things to keep in mind: