Socialization in Japanese Business Culture



Business culture in Japan is unique and can be quite different from that of other countries. One aspect that stands out is the emphasis on socialization. In Japan, building relationships and trust is a crucial part of doing business, and this often involves socializing outside of work hours.
For many Japanese companies, socialization is seen as a way to build trust and strengthen team dynamics within the company. It’s not uncommon for colleagues to go out for drinks or dinner after work, or participate in company-sponsored recreational activities. These gatherings provide an opportunity for colleagues to get to know each other on a personal level, which can lead to better communication and collaboration in the workplace. Let’s go over a few things you should keep in mind when going out with your colleagues.

Etiquette and Politeness

Even though it would be a casual gathering after work, maintaining a high level of politeness and observing proper etiquette is crucial. This includes showing gratitude, using respectful language, and being considerate of others’ feelings.

Hierarchy and Respect

Hierarchy and respect are deeply ingrained in Japanese society, and this extends to after-hours socializing as well. It is important to show respect to those in higher positions and to understand the proper way to address them.

1. Seating Arrangements:

Allow your boss and senior colleagues to choose their seats first, and then follow their lead. Typically, the most senior person will sit farthest from the entrance.

2. Pouring Drinks:

It is customary to pour drinks for others, especially for your boss and senior colleagues. When individuals pour drinks for one another, it is considered a gesture of respect. When pouring drinks for others, hold the bottle with two hands as a sign of respect.

Ordering Food

If you go to an izakaya, it is typical to select a variety of dishes to share among the group instead of ordering individual meals. This allows everyone to sample different flavors and engage in a communal dining experience. When serving yourself from shared dishes, it is polite to take small portions at a time to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the food.

Paying the Bill

It is common to split the bill at the end of the meal between colleagues. However, it is not uncommon for the boss or the most senior person present to pay for the group’s meal. This act of generosity is a way for the boss to demonstrate appreciation for the team, and it aligns with the hierarchical and group-oriented nature of Japanese business culture. However, it’s important to note that this practice may vary depending on the specific workplace and the individuals involved.
Additionally, it’s important to be mindful of table manners. I recommend reading the two-part article How Not to Embarrass Yourself at the Japanese Dinner Table” before going out with your colleagues.