Business & Religious Etiquette in Japan

Shintoism is the native religion of Japan, but was intermingled with Buddhism in the 8th century.
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Although the majority of Japanese citizens do not identify themselves as religious, religious tradition is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and informs almost every act of daily life. In the business world, this is reflected through the etiquette people use when dealing with one another as well as how they carry themselves professionally in the workplace.

1 Shintoism

Shintoism is the folk religion of Japan and has the longest history in the country. Shintoism is rooted in tradition, and as there is no single authoritative religious document, the practices often change from place to place. However, a number of common principles unite all Shinto sects. One of the chief principles of Shintoism is the idea of purity. In the workplace, a Shinto priest is often called in to purify and bless the new space before work begins. Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese culture both in and out of the workplace and is a good way to ensure business deals remain friendly. However, according to Shinto tradition, the number four is unlucky and symbolizes death. Gifts featuring this number are inappropriate.

2 Buddhism

Very few Japanese cite Shintoism as their sole religion. Instead, many embrace a combination of Shintoism and Buddhism. The effects of Buddhism on Japanese culture are considerable and are reflected in several aspects of Japanese life. In the Japanese business world, it's customary to regularly go out for food and drinks after work. Similarly, when eating it is customary to say "itadakimasu" before starting and "gochisosama" after finishing. These words show thanks to the people preparing or paying for the meal, and tradition dictates that all members of the party say these phrases. This custom is extremely important and is derived from Buddhism.

3 Confucianism

Although not widely practiced or even acknowledged, Confucianism continues to have a strong impact on Japanese morality. Under the Tokugawa rule, Japan began to adopt Confucian ethics and called this new Japanese Confucianism "Neo-Confucianism." In the business world, the Confucian emphasis on respect is reflected in workplace etiquette. Japanese workers use an entirely different set of words when addressing superiors. An individual would use one word when talking about his superior's action and a different when talking about his own. Similarly, when receiving a business card, it is important to accept it with both hands and actually look at the card instead of quickly shoving it in one's pocket.

4 Other Etiquette

Several customs in Japanese culture have almost religious significance, even if they're not influenced by any single religious tradition. In the workplace, it is important to bow as a sign of forgiveness and thanks. The depth of a bow reflects the relative status of the two parties. The further a person bows, the more respect they are showing. Similarly, when going out with colleagues, the junior members of the company should pour drinks for their superiors.

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.