Culture Connection: A NEXTer Takes On Japan

We have started a year-long series to introduce NEXTers to customs and cultures around the world. First stop – Japan, my home country!

How can we build relationships with Japanese people?

People in Japan are very collectivist. Everyone has his or her own social circles. For example, when you go to school, you realize that all of your classmates have their own circles of friends. They have similar interests and spend most of their time together. It also means that they only hang out with people within their circles and do not open up themselves to others easily. With that in mind, building relationships is a very important process in Japan. In order to build relationships with Japanese people, you have to take them out of their circles because Japanese people are very formal and polite when you first meet them. You may even feel that they do not want to talk to you. The important thing is to be patient, show them that you are interested in them, and build the relationship slowly.

Japanese people don’t say “NO”

This is one of the most important things you need to know about Japanese people. They rarely say “no.” Instead of saying “no”, they will say “next time”. Here is a typical situation you might see: Suppose you ask your Japanese friend for dinner. If she does not want to go, she will say “Oh, I am sorry, I am busy today…Maybe next time!” This is how Japanese people say “no.” Most likely “next time” means no. This again comes from their strong sense of collectivism. Japanese people do not want to decline others’ offers because it may hurt their relationship. Thus, when they decline, they will do so indirectly. When you face such a situation, do not push too hard by asking aggressively when the next time will be. Wait to see if they will follow up with you.

These are the facts you may want to know before you start building relationships with Japanese people, whether as friends or business partners. Please ask any questions here!


Mari Tanaka is Marketing Coordinator at NEXT for Women. She is originally from Japan and moved to the United States in 2009 for school. She loves learning and gaining new experience, and meeting new people!


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