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Home > Money > Budget 2007 > Columnists > Guest Column > Karthik Tirupathi

The Japanese art of negotiating

February 23, 2007

Part I: Punctuality: The Japanese way of business
Part II: Doing biz with Japanese? Some social tips

This is the third and concluding part of this series on how the Indian executive can do business with Japanese.

Negotiating, meetings and 'Nemawashi'

Meetings are usually never the place where decisions get made or can be expected in Japan. In fact they are a forum for both sides to present their views and state their positions.

All disagreements are usually ironed out in the evening over a drink and/or dinner. This is in stark contrast to the Indian business practice (or better still, Western business practice) where we try to get everybody concerned to be present and attempt to iron out issues immediately.

'Nemawashi' literally stands for "digging around the root" and preparing a tree or sapling for transplant. This manifests itself in consensus building across the Japanese team before a decision is taken or a change is initiated.

It is well known that the Japanese prefer a team approach (as opposed to the more common individualistic approach in India) whereby they want all the members of the team to "buy in". This consensus building always takes some time and hence leads to delays in several decisions.

It is therefore important for the Indian businessman to understand this situation and go along and support this process. At the end of the day, one should be also prepared to negotiate very hard with the Japanese regardless of the relationship that has been built! 

Software "let us think and develop"

It is not uncommon for the Japanese to award a contract and then start to think about what they want exactly. They generally have an idea of what is wanted but like to develop it to perfection as they go along. In direct contrast, the Indian IT industry focuses on extreme detailing during the specification stage so that the scope of delivery can be defined.

This difference in approach leads to many problems during the delivery stage whereby both sides need to adopt an approach of "give and take". 

Customer is GOD

The Japanese service industry has set precedents and world standards in excellence that others strive to achieve, with limited success. One of the cornerstones of this industry is the belief that the customer is God and hence nobody ever asks "Why?" when the customer makes a demand -- no matter how unreasonable it is! [Such a statement can create quite some furore and be open to considerable debate; however, that is the way the industry operates].

On the other hand, in India it is not uncommon to find a customer service executive (though the service industry is evolving rapidly, one must admit) arguing with a client. A similar approach is often carried on to the dealings with the Japanese.

However, this difference in approach usually causes a lot of problems in the relationship and almost immediately results in a reduction of trust. Therefore, It is extremely crucial  to recognize and overcome this difference in approach.

The author is President of Nihongo Bashi (, the leading provider of Japanese language & business education in India.

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