Etiquette and Rituals Rule in Japan's Business Culture

Sally Herships
August 11, 2015
Marketplace

“At a dinner meeting in Tokyo recently, where a lot of business happens over meals, two Japanese professors, Ryo Sahashi, an associate professor of international politics at Kanagawa University,  and Satoru Mori, from the department of global politics, faculty of law at Hosei University, arrived and sat down at their booth. Even though it meant one of them would shortly have to get up to make room for one of their colleagues, who had yet to arrive, they left the middle seat between them empty.

It might have seemed like a random decision; it was anything but. The explanation, says Toshihiro Nakayama, a professor of policy management at Keio University and the third and last to be seated, is simple. In Japan, the center seat is reserved for the most senior person, in this case, him.

Unlike in America, in Japan when you go to a meeting, you don’t just grab an empty chair and sit anywhere. Often, there’s a formal seating arrangement. And, often, if you’re Japanese you’ll be expected to know where to sit.”

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Ippudo Restaurant Photo credit: Marketplace

Sally Herships is a 2015 US-Japan Journalism Fellow.