Greetings in Japan

There are a few communication fundamentals that need to be kept in mind in the Land of the Rising Sun. In today’s blog post, you’ll learn whether you should bow when meeting Japanese business partners and what needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to Japanese first and last names.

When Japanese people greet each other, they usually bow. This type of greeting is seldom expected from foreigners, who are instead welcomed with a handshake.

There are also certain things to keep in mind during subsequent introductions. When large groups of managers at a similar hierarchical level meet each other, they each introduce themselves in succession. Otherwise introductions are made by a subordinate employee, beginning with the person at the highest hierarchical level. Many Japanese people consider it an insult to greet or address high-level managers directly. So it’s best to wait until you’re introduced.

Order of Japanese names

Just like in many other cultures, Japanese names consist of a first and last name. Yet one crucial difference is often a cause of confusion – the order is reversed.

Let’s say a person’s first name is Hina, last name Tanaka. While Americans or Germans would express the name as Hina Tanaka, the Japanese would say Tanaka Hina.

When Japanese people are introduced to Western foreigners, they often go ahead and exchange their first and last names. This can easily lead to confusion on both sides. Japanese people are also often confused when we use our names with the titles “Mr.” and cross-cultural training,cross-cultural training Japan, Japan, bowing, forms of address, greeting, introduction“Mrs.” We recommend asking about names specifically and communicating your own name clearly.

People are addressed by their last names in Japan. To that end, “-san” is simply attached to the end of the name, regardless of sex. For instance, “Mr. Tanaka” becomes “Tanaka-san” and “Mr. Eidam” becomes “Eidam-san”. Mentioning a last name without “-san” is seen as a sign of intimacy in Japan, whereas this might be perceived as impolite in other cultures.

The quick use of first names – as is common in America – is considered distasteful in Japan. Sometimes even friends don’t address each other with first names there.

Did you know?

Japanese names often have specific meanings. Parents name their children in the hope that the qualities described by the names rub off on their offspring. For example, Keiko means “fortunate child” and Naomi means “beautiful”.

As you can see, there are certain things that need to be kept in mind when it comes to greetings, introductions and forms of address in Japan. If you need more information – for instance, about topics such as negotiations, meeting management or customer relations in Japan – we’d be happy to help you with our cross-cultural training on Japan, which we’ll gladly adapt to your individual needs.


Andreas Riedel

About Andreas Riedel

Ich habe Tourismuswirtschaft und Europa-Studien/Kulturwissenschaften studiert. In beiden Fachrichtungen durfte ich mich auf ganz unterschiedliche Art und Weise bereits mit dem Thema Interkulturelle Kommunikation beschäftigen. Seit Februar 2013 bin ich nun Interkultureller Berater bei Eidam & Partner. Unser Unternehmen bietet Ihnen Interkulturelles Training, Interkulturelles Coaching, Consulting und eLearning zu 70 Zielländern.
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