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Guide to Business Networking in Japan

Networking in Japan and building that network is like planting seeds, the more seeds you plant and the more you nurture it, the more fruit it will bear in the future. Despite what others may say, getting a job or getting a client isn’t 100% based on your qualifications or the best product, a lot of it is who you know. The best jobs and getting new clients often come from referrals in Japan and is a critical aspect for anyone serious about doing business in Japan long-term. 

networking in Japan in a cafe

 

In this article, we will explore all that you need to know about networking in Japan, unveiling the cultural intricacies, unwrapping the secrets of successful connections, and guiding you toward mastering the art of building relationships. This will not only elevate your professional journey but also immerse you in the captivating tapestry of Japan’s vibrant social landscape.

Where Can I Network in Japan?

Japan hosts various networking events, each tailored to different audiences while accommodating a wide range of participants. These gatherings offer opportunities for job seekers, students, business owners, and freelancers to connect and grow. Whether you’re aiming to expand your industry contacts, collaborate, or enhance your skills, Japan’s networking events provide a diverse and inclusive platform for meaningful interactions and are commonly found on sites such as 

Networking events for entrepreneurs/startups

There’s a range of networking events available for entrepreneurs in Tokyo but if you’re looking to help your start-up gain some traction and begin networking in Japan faster, consider joining an accelerator. To find the right accelerator for you, head to our article on Start-up accelerators in Japan.  Here is a list of networking events for entrepreneurs in Tokyo:

networking in Japan with an event

  1. Venture Cafe at Cambridge Innovations Center Japan (English events)

CIC supports the growth of startups by holding regular meet-ups/lunches for networking in Japan. Around the world, CIC has created a network of bright and hopeful entrepreneurs and it’s no different in Tokyo.

  1. FuckUp Nights Tokyo (English Events)

Failure Sucks, but Instruct! FuckUp Nights is a community of people who share the experiences and learnings from their business failures. They are a global community in more than 185 cities across 62 countries.

  1. Startuplady (English events)

Startup Lady is an international community dedicated to bridging the gap between dreamers and women entrepreneurial leaders by inspiring, challenging, and equipping motivated individuals.  

  1. FEW Japan (English events)

FEW is a collective of globally-minded, English-speaking women who motivate, inspire, and connect with one another through powerful programming, intimate gatherings for networking in Japan, and a constant exchange of ideas.  

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Networking events for students

Finding the right events for networking as a student is difficult. But, try to look in the right spots. Job or opportunity boards from schools often post about upcoming events with companies in which you can begin your journey of networking in Japan. Job fairs are a great place to meet other foreign students and begin networking in Japan. They may have also obtained a job at a company. If you’re able to connect well with one of the recruiters, this might even help you improve your resume, direct you to companies that might hire you, and ultimately, get hired.  Take a look at these circles or other international groups in and out of your university as well as a few job fairs that you can enter:

  1. Tokyo International Students Hangout

This is an example of clubs and circles that help introduce you to other international students in Japan. Make sure to check if the club meets according to your schedule. 

  1. GlobalLeader DOORS GL Job Fair

They have free registrations and hold most of their events online now. Companies in this job fair will center on the science and automotive industries. If you’re currently studying a STEM-based degree, make sure to check this out.

  1. MyNavi 

With numerous companies presenting, MyNavi is dedicated to job accrual and matching for international students. Linked above is their latest online event. Their future dates are TBA.

  1. Oshitogo

Oshitogo regularly holds online and offline job events for both international and Japanese students. Make sure to stay tuned to their website for the latest updates. 

Events in other areas of Japan

  1. Start-up Guild Osaka (Japanese and English events, mainly Japanese)

Startup Guild is an organization aimed at developing local startup ecosystems through speaking sessions, networking events, and support. They hold regular events with speakers and are usually free to sign up to.

  1. Entrepreneur’s Organization North Japan (Mainly Japanese events)

The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a global, peer-to-peer network of more than 18,000+ influential business owners with 220 chapters in 75+ countries. which makes this a great option for networking in Japan and beyond This organization is mainly centered on high net worth entrepreneurs. This organization has a few chapters around Japan such as EO Central Tokyo, EO North Japan, EO Tokyo Metropolitan, EO Kyoto, EO Osaka, EO Kyushu, EO Nagoya, and EO Hokkaido

  1. Lions Club Japan / Shusei Club 

This club allows small medium enterprise (SME) business owners to network with monthly exchange meetings that include business card exchanging meetings, table meetings, and other social gatherings. 

Additionally, for those in Fukuoka, Fukuoka Plus is a great site to learn more about events in the area.

Annual Startup Networking Events

  1. Takeoff Tokyo (June)

Takeoff Tokyo is mainly a 2-day pitch event for early-stage startups working on world-changing ideas and competing for the grand prize, but they also invite veteran entrepreneurs and industry experts chat sessions to share their knowledge. Networking in this event is highly encouraged and there are booths where you can schedule meetings with certain people. 

  1.  Growth for Startups (November)

The Growth Industry Conference is the country’s largest hybrid global conference and network. The event hopes to bring together eco-system builders from growth industries in Japan and abroad for the purpose of networking in Japan. 

  1. IVS Events (June)

IVS is a well-known platform and community for start-up executives in Japan. As one of the largest conferences and over 15000 participants, it’s one of the premier opportunities for startups across Asia looking to establish themselves.

  1. City-tech Tokyo (February)

City-tech Tokyo is a challenge-based networking event with keynote speakers from around the world to speak about climate change, geopolitical changes, and infectious diseases. The start-ups, especially for the startup challenge aim to address green issues and the participants are ready to answer them. 

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How is Networking Different in Japan

Networking in Japan is unique because of its almost artful aspect, as it’s steeped in formality. But once you’ve got the art down, you slowly build your credibility which paves the way for seamless connections and the gradual expansion of your social circle. It’s incredibly important to understand communication styles in order to even begin getting the art down. Japanese business communication is often indirect and subtle. You must read between the lines because Japanese people tend to stick to what they know is polite. Rochelle Kopp, founder, and managing principal at Japan Intercultural Consulting, discusses this more thoroughly in our podcast episode on Japanese Business Culture. 

It may be difficult to begin but the expat community is supportive and is easier to break into. To start, getting to know each other is an important step, and the introduction is where you set the impression they have of you. 

How are Japanese Titles Used in Business?

Japanese titles are an instant sign of respecting someone else because they express how you view the other person with just one word. This politeness and respect is highly valued in the business world and in Japanese culture in general. There are a few rules to using honorifics but in general, use the person’s last name with the honorific san (さん) as using the first name is much too comfortable for a first meeting in Japan. The honorific sama (さま) mainly refers to customers or clients. In other situations, you may need to use an actual title. The following is a breakdown of which title to use when networking in Japan and with whom.

TitleDescription
Tenchō (店長This means area manager and this title is used for those who manage a geographical region of offices or stores
Eria manējā (エリヤマネージャー)This means area manager and this title is used for those who manage a geographical region of offices or stores
Shunin(主任) or Chifu (チーフThis is commonly interpreted as chief or team head. They lead the staff of the company and its departments
Kakarichō (係長)This is commonly interpreted as chief but they rank above a Shunin(主任). Think of them as a sub-department or subdivision head
Kacho (課長) This means sectional chiefs. They usually monitor employee work which allows them to better know the employees of the company. This could be a good point person if you’re targeting a certain company’s workers 
Bucho (部長)means sectional chiefs and they usually monitor employee work which allows them to better know the employees of the company. This could be a good point person if you’re targeting a certain company’s workers 
Joumu (常務)This is also known as the managing director. This position advises higher-up executives while basically functioning as an operational manager to the company. 
Senmu (専務)This means senior managing director and they oversee a higher level of what the Joumu (常務) looks at, operations-wise.
Fuku-Shachō (副社長)This is also known as the vice president of the company and they serve as the acting president during the president’s absences while reporting to the president. This depends on the duties of the president of the company.
Shachō (社長)This means the department chief and they direct the company’s strategy making them rank above Kacho (課長) and around 50-100 other subordinates.
Kaichō (会長)This means CEO or chief executive officer. They tend to handle the board of directors, major decisions for the company, and translate the decisions of the board of directors to the daily operations of the company. 

How Does One Use Business Cards in Japan AKA Meishi?

The exchange of business cards or meishi koukan is deeply rooted in Japanese etiquette and when networking in Japan, from practices established centuries past. Not having a business card can imply insignificance or nonexistence in Japanese business circles, so it’s important to carry one with you. Here, we’ll discuss the basic know-how of using business cards or Meishi in Japan, but for a more in-depth guide, refer to our article on Japanese Business Cards. 

To start the process, you should first find a suitable business card printing servicer. If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese printing shops, there are services that offer business card printing in English to assist you in crafting your own professional cards. Among them, here are a few shops that each provide Japanese business cards: 

  • Mojo cheap business card and easy English process
  • Printpac cheap business cards but no English process
  • Monkeyprint – Japan for printing business cards with design services
  • Primeprint for high-quality business cards

When presenting your card while networking in Japan, offer it with a respectful bow and an introduction. Hold the card by its top corner to ensure logos and names are visible, extending it with your right hand. Remember to include a bow while presenting the card, and incorporate the Japanese phrase Hajime-mashite (はじめまして), signifying ‘nice to meet you,’ along with your name in Japanese. When receiving someone else’s card while networking in Japan, accept it using both hands, holding it at a lowered position, not above your chest. Express gratitude for the card during this exchange.

Common mistakes people make when networking in Japan

Sensitivity is a necessity when exploring the jungle of networking in Japan. While forging connections can be rewarding, it’s essential to avoid common mistakes that can hinder successful interactions. By understanding and sidestepping these errors, you can foster meaningful relationships and make the most of your networking endeavors in the Japanese business landscape.

  1. Don’t ask for a sale/introduction too quickly 

Building a relationship and trust is crucial in any interaction while networking in Japan, whether it’s a business deal or a personal introduction. Pushing for a sale or asking for an introduction too quickly can come across as aggressive or insincere. It’s important to establish a rapport and understand the other person’s needs and interests before making any direct requests. Taking the time to listen, understand, and provide value can lead to more successful outcomes in the long run.

  1. Don’t correct a Japanese person’s English

No one is perfect in a language, especially when the language isn’t native to the country. By correcting a Japanese person’s English, you embarrass the speaker and change the dynamic of the meeting. They probably won’t want to meet you again because of what they’ve chalked up you to be.

Correcting a Japanese person’s English reflects on you and your character as someone who isn’t humble or is condescending, which is highly prized in Japanese culture. If you’re ever confused about something while networking in Japan, it is better to clarify and say you can’t hear so well as this is less embarrassing for the other party and places the blame on your own deficiencies, another common thing in Japanese culture. 

  1. Don’t jump into Japanese too quickly when the person wants to speak English

When someone is trying to communicate in a language they’re learning, it’s considerate to give them the opportunity to practice and improve. If the person expresses their desire to speak in English, respect their choice and engage in English-speaking conversations. Jumping into Japanese too quickly might hinder their language development and discourage them from practicing English. However, if they initiate the conversation using Japanese or signal that they would like to switch, then it’s appropriate to switch languages.

  1. Don’t skip personal introductions and get to know each other time

The worst thing you can do while networking in Japan would be to make the interaction feel transactional. No person wants to feel used and furthermore, they won’t likely remember you if you don’t tell them anything about yourself. It’s important to have a self-introduction prepared and get to know the person on the other end. We’ll be discussing self-introductions or Jikōshōkai in the next section. 

How to thrive in networking in Japan

Thriving in networking in Japan demands a dedicated commitment to understanding and adhering to nuanced cultural expectations. This entails embracing the strong reliance on trusted relationships and thus referrals, drinking parties, geographically different networking styles, and even language barriers. By authentically immersing oneself in these customs, individuals can bridge cultural divides, showcase sincerity, and ultimately cultivate enduring relationships that enrich both their professional network and personal growth. To learn more about other etiquette rules, read our article on Japanese Business Etiquette. 

Japanese Business Etiquette

How Does One Utilize Jikōshōkai and Referrals?

Jikōshōkai, or self-introduction, is a key element in Japanese networking, allowing individuals to concisely share their background and skills. A well-crafted Jikōshōkai can lead to referrals, as it reflects genuine enthusiasm and a true character. Referrals can then be nurtured through reciprocal interactions, gratitude, and a commitment to mutual success, enhancing one’s professional network in Japan. Much of the Japanese business landscape hires based on referrals and in order to get to that stage, you need to establish your character.

To create a successful Jikōshōkai, customize it with the following. 

  1. Occupation. Introduce yourself with your job title such as the ones in the How are Japanese Titles Used in Business section. Only introduce your company name if it’s a professional business setting or a networking event, as otherwise, it wouldn’t seem humble. 
  2. School. The university pool in Japan doesn’t number so high so stating which one you come from might form more of an idea on your background. For Japanese university students with no experience, this is a great option to start with. Simply starting your university and saying you’ve graduated from there is enough but try not to be too pretentious with your word choice. 
  3. Residence. Where you live is a common question you’ll get, especially if you don’t look completely Japanese. So, it’s not strange to include it in your self-introduction. 
Question Answer
OccupationWhat do you do for work?

なんのしごとをしていますか?

Nan-no shigotowo-shite imasuka?
I’m a salaryman/I work for a company

かいしゃいんです。
Kaishain desu。

(common response)
I’m (your name) from (company name), 
(company name)の (your name)です。
(company name)no (your name)desu.
SchoolWhich university do you go to?

どのだいがくにいきましたか?

Dono daigaku-ni ikimashitaka?
I go to _____.

わたしは _____だいがくです。

watashi-wa _____daigaku-desu。
ResidenceWhere do you live?

どこにすんでいますか?

Doko-ni sun-de imasu-ka?
I live in _____. 
_____に すんで います。
_____ni sun-de imasu. 
I live near _____.
_____の ちかくにすんで います。
_____no chikaku-ni sun-de imasu.

Finally, remember to include your name in the mix. In casual situations while networking in Japan, only your family name is necessary but if it’s a more formal occasion, add in your first name. Most importantly start and end with a bow and try to offer your business cards somewhere in between if you get the chance. 

Top 5 tips on navigating Nomikai

nomikai in Japan

A typical day of work in a Japanese workplace setting doesn’t include much interaction between workers and supervisors. The formalities of work make relationships difficult to build within that setting. That’s why nomikai or drinking parties are so integral when working with a group of people, as it bypasses the formalities beyond the office. These are also excellent places to learn more about the people around you and network. Navigating these parties may be difficult for someone who hasn’t experienced it yet but it follows a repeating rhythm. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Where to drink: Most nomikai are held at izakayas or Japanese pubs. 
  2. What to drink: Most first orders are draft beer 生ビール (nama bi-ru).
  3. How to drink: If you’re drinking with your supervisors, it’s essential to pour the supervisor’s drinks. When drinking, remember to say cheers or kanpai with everyone. 
  4. Afterparties: You may be invited to an afterparty in another place (usually another Izakaya) to have a more relaxed drink. You should decide ahead whether or not you’re ok with missing your last train as these typically last long. 
  5. How to end a nomikai: Ending a nomikai means getting together in a circle for a clap to signal the end of a successful nomikai, also known as ippon jime

How do networking/business styles vary in different areas of Japan?

Japan may be monoethnic but the cultural diversity ranges across the different prefectures. Networking in Japan requires adaptability according to where you are in the country, the same way that dialects are different. There is a subtle shift in engagement with each other that you can take advantage of while traveling and meeting people across the country. 

The common stereotypes are that Tokyo is stylish, Nagoya is brand-oriented, and Osaka is food-centered. But the social tendencies differ much deeper among the three. There are a few key differences to networking in each city which we’ve listed in the table below: Please note these are just generalities and don’t apply to everyone, but use as a reference to when self-reflecting on how you can have networked more effectively – additionally many people in the big cities are not originally from there!

TokyoNagoyaOsaka
Comfortability levelsTokyo residents prefer more superficial and surface-level. relationships, especially when you’ve just been introduced. Nagoya residents don’t have much of a stereotype on this front. Err on the safe side and be polite!Osaka residents tend to prefer assertive and friendly natures. They’re comfortable with this dynamic and enjoy being genuine with other people, so it pays to expose your substance in character to other people. 
Meeting timesCompanies in Tokyo differ among starting times but 10:00 AM is a healthy approximate. Overtime is common, however, so having a meeting at 19:30 or 20:00 is a good estimate. Most companies start work at 8:00 a.m. because of the manufacturing sector’s similarities. If you plan to meet someone, it would be best to meet them at 19:00 or beyond to match their schedules. Companies in Tokyo differ among starting times but 10:00 AM is a healthy approximation. Overtime is common, however, so having a meeting at 19:30 or 20:00 is a good estimate. 
Meeting attireBlack garments with chic coordination seem to be the style in Tokyo and something that could never go wrong. Nagoya people are, once again, brand-minded, so even a small amount of logo presentation would be beneficial. Warm colors and florals would win over Osaka residents. Business attire is more relaxed and they prefer a casual fit. 

Final thoughts

In essence, networking in Japan goes beyond the conventional exchange of information. It’s an intricate interplay of culture, respect, and genuine connection. As you navigate the landscape of networking events and social interactions, understanding the subtleties of Japanese communication styles, the significance of business titles and the art of self-introduction becomes apparent. Embracing the practice of nomikai opens doors to forging bonds beyond the office and lays the foundation for enduring relationships. By immersing yourself in this artful dance of networking in Japan, you not only broaden your professional horizons but also gain a deeper appreciation for the essence of Japanese society, where each connection is a brushstroke on the canvas of your own personal and professional masterpiece.

In the diversity of Japan’s regions, networking styles vary, yet the universal thread remains the same: the power of authentic engagement. Through these connections, you not only expand your career prospects but also become an active participant in the captivating narrative of networking in Japan. So, as you embark on this journey, remember that every exchange, every bow, and every shared moment contributes to the web of relationships that define success in Japan’s dynamic business landscape.

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