If you enjoyed our packing list for a business trip to China, we’re back with another business traveller’s guide—this time for the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan.
As the third largest economy in the world, Japan is, unsurprisingly, a major destination for international business travellers. But despite its popularity with visitors, even the slightest cultural slip-up can have an impact on the success of a business trip.
To help you have one less thing to worry about, we’ve compiled a list of packing essentials for your upcoming business trip to Japan, including items that are deemed important in local business culture.
Multiple pairs of clean socks 🧦
Japanese business culture tends to involve food and drink. During your visit, you may find yourself invited to dinner or drinks at your contact’s favourite pub or restaurant. In a country where it’s customary to remove one’s shoes before entering a private home, restaurant, or bar, it pays to pack multiple pairs of clean, hole-free socks for your business trip.
Why? Well, if you’re going to take off your shoes, the last thing you want is for the dank smell of your dirty socks to waft around the room. Fresh pairs are a must—at least one for every day of your trip if you don’t want to pay for laundry.
Not only is it considered rude to track dirt into a house or business establishment, but wearing shoes indoors also ignores basic hygiene rules in Japan, where people may sit on tatami mats and dine close to the floor.
Bespoke business cards with Japanese translations 📇
As we discussed in a blog post on business travel essentials in Japan, the Japanese are serious when it comes to meishi koukan or the tradition of exchanging business cards. It’s rare for a business transaction between strangers to begin without this practice as it’s considered as the formal beginning of a business relationship.
If there’s plenty at stake in your upcoming business trip to Japan, don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. Go ahead and order bespoke, professionally-designed business cards with Japanese translations of all your personal information (care of a professional translator or native speaker you trust) on the other side of the card.
It’s not unusual for Japanese businessmen to compliment their colleagues’ business cards, so pay attention to design. And remember to place your cards in a case to keep them in mint condition throughout the trip. You’ll also be using this case to carry any business cards you receive from the people you meet.
Printed collateral 📃
Aside from business cards, Japan’s paper-based culture can also be seen in people’s preference for printed collateral, especially when it comes to business matters.
It’s always a good idea to have hard copies of documents, presentations, or brochures you want to give to your Japanese associates. If you can, provide Japanese translations of your collateral, which your contacts will highly appreciate.
Bear in mind that Japanese businessmen tend to pay attention to details you may think are unimportant, such as the founding date of your organisation or staff size. Be sure to include the titles of the key people in your organisation as well.
Conservative business attire 👔
Unless stated otherwise, businessmen in Japan tend to dress in some form of business attire, even in more casual industries like gaming, music, or entertainment. Better to come wearing a plain suit than sticking out for being undressed.
For men, a dark suit and plain white or blue dress shirt paired with a plain tie and polished black shoes is a safe option for any first meeting. For women, a conservative skirt suit or pantsuit in any dark colour paired with a plain blouse works well.
The Japanese tend to be conservative, so try to take a minimalist approach to your business outfits and avoid loud colour combinations and exaggerated patterns.
Some cash before arriving at the airport 💴
According to Boston Consulting Group, cash payments account for 65 percent of all transactions in Japan—an anomaly considering the average in other developed countries is 32 percent. The reason? The majority of small businesses still prefer cash.
The good news is that ATMs are ubiquitous. Still, it’s a good idea to bring some cash in the local currency to pay for necessities at the airport, such as a pocket Wi-Fi router, a local SIM, or your cab fare or train ticket to the city.
Credit cards are accepted in large department stores, supermarkets, and electronic stores. Travellers from Southeast Asia can also use LINE Pay to make payments with their phones. WeChat has also launched a similar service in Japan called WeChat Pay using LINE accounts.
A meaningful gift 🎁
In Japanese culture, omiyage is the tradition of giving gifts or souvenirs (usually edibles) to loved ones after returning home from a trip.
In business settings, it’s customary for associates to exchange gifts towards the end of a meeting. This is a great opportunity to give a little something from home, whether it’s a bottle of your favourite local wine, a jar of kaya jam, or bakkwa. If you know your contact has children, a plush merlion or chocolate is always a crowd-pleaser.
Be sure to wrap your gift in a bag and present it with both hands to your associate at the right moment.
Whether you’re nursing a hangover from a night out with your Japanese contacts, jet lag, or a migraine from the cold weather, it’s always a good idea to pack headache medicine in your suitcase.
You may also find yourself gorging on the best sushi of your life. But if you’re unused to raw fish, don’t be surprised to have an upset stomach. Activated charcoal pills go a long way towards shortening the duration of traveller’s diarrhoea and food poisoning, so go ahead and bring some with you.
Pack light, pack right for your business trip to Japan
A business trip to Japan doesn’t mean stuffing your entire room’s contents into your suitcase. With a bit of planning and anticipation of your trip’s activities, you can pack the items that really matter and focus on the goals of your visit. You may even get to squeeze in a bit of time for sightseeing, something every first-time visitor to Japan should do.