however you are dealing with a smaller domestic distributor,
a smaller company or an internal division of a major corporation
(even one of Japan's multinationals), then the entire meeting
may be in Japanese with English being restricted to "Good
morning/afternoon.", "Nice to meet you.", "My name is Tanaka."
etc. at the outset.
In the first of the above scenarios you will pretty soon forget you are in Japan and neither Japanese business culture nor etiquette will seem to be an obstacle to your success. Very often you will proceed quickly to a profitable business relationship but equally as often you will not. The problem is that the conversation may be in English but the other side is thinking in Japanese and, being polite, the Japanese side will not wish to hurt your feelings. Japanese salesmen instinctively know when they are being politely rebuked - most foreign executives do not, particularly if they are hugely relieved to find a prospective customer or partner that speaks fluent English!
Politeness and meeting manners are a key aspect of Japanese business culture and, as noted above, one which can mislead foreign executives. Many Japanese businessmen show a heightened sense of politeness when speaking in English with foreign company executives. The same man speaking in Japanese will be more direct, saying what he really means, or rather, he will say "No" in a way that while polite will leave a Japanese salesperson in no doubt of his meaning. Why are they so polite in the first instance but more direct in the second?
In the second of the above first meeting scenarios, the differences in business culture will be emphasized by language differences and that can be either very enlightening or very frustrating. In a Japanese language meeting, the Japanese side are likely to be very polite, show a substantial amount of formality and reserve and you will be concerned that they are not 'opening up' and that the meeting is not going well. Very often the pattern is as follows:
Such polite, reserved and well-mannered meetings are typical of Japanese business but are often especially frustrating for US company executives because, in the US, business is very informal and businessmen meeting for the very first time can often seem to have been lifelong friends within minutes of first shaking hands. Do not be disheartened though - just because the Japanese side is not talking about yesterday's ball game does not mean they are not interested in your product/service.In this second scenario, a good businessperson will use his/her interpreter to probe and test the Japanese sides impressions and reactions. They will often be more forthcoming because they are talking to your interpreter (and in a sense rejecting him/her rather than you) and your interpreter will be able to advise you accordingly. If the Japanese side is genuinely interested in your product or service then they will want to meet again irrespective of language differences. If they are not interested then you saved a lot of time, energy and can move on to more profitable prospects.