Allens Arthur Robinson lawyer Sandy Wu gained valuable insight into Japanese culture and business dealings when she attended a business cultural exchange tour hosted by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs this month.
Wu, who attended the tour for 10 days with 48 other Australian professionals from areas including banking and finance, media, mining and engineering, accounting, government and law, said she wanted to understand the culture because she had crossed paths with many Japanese clients.
"From the formal method of exchanging business cards to the seating order in a taxi, maintaining meticulous standards of etiquette when conducting business in Japan is all important. So many basic social interactions follow a sophisticated and important protocol," she said.
"We learnt that if we wanted to impress our Japanese guests at a business meeting or dinner function, we must observe the traditional Japanese seating customs - which take into account factors including seniority, guest-following-host relationship, the position of the door and decorations in the room."
At a lecture held by the Japanese External Trade Organisation, Wu also learnt that 882 foreign companies had tried to invest in Japan in 2008.
"But only 77 of those 882 companies were successful - that is quite shocking. We were questioning 'Why can't foreign companies enter into this Japanese market? What's so hard?' And we later learnt that it was because of a lack of knowledge of the Japanese culture and the way they do business," she said.
Business relationships are built with the long-term future in mind, said Wu, with as many as 30 meetings or round tables conducted to test whether the other party had a genuine interest.
"I was quite surprised to find that meetings were never really the place where decisions and final yes [or] no answers were given ... more so, all the inconsistencies with the ideas or pros and cons of the contract are usually weighed up over a drink, over a sake, over dinner, so it's more of an informal way of saying yes or no to a contract and agreeing to the terms of a contract," she said.
Apart from practising her Japanese language skills, Wu also has plans to lobby the Australian Government to implement a reciprocal program for Japanese professionals to meet with Australian employer associations and businesspeople.
- Sarah Sharples