Guest Post by Kate Cole
Tokyo is a city that can surprise, delight and inspire travellers of any kind, whether you’re a backpacker in a sleeping pod or staying at up-market corporate accommodation. If you’re visiting Tokyo on business and have some time in your schedule to get acquainted with the local culture, or are uncertain of the infamously esoteric rules of etiquette, here are some tips and tidbits to get you started:
Small Scenes on the Big Screen
Before heading off, get a fascinating insight into an aspect of the Japanese psyche by watching the documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono who owns and runs Jiro, the three Michelin-starred restaurant which contains only ten seats and is bizarrely location in a fluorescent-lit corridor underneath Ginza metro station. Jiro’s apprentices spend ten years learning to use their knives before they’re even allowed to cook eggs; the principal is to become a shokunin, a skilled craftsman who can do the exact same task every day to an unerringly high level, aimed at accomplishing total perfection. This documentary allows the uninitiated a peak at the elegant obsessiveness of Japanese culture.
What’s in a Greeting?
Tokyo is one of the three largest finance centres in the world (along with New York City and London) and houses the headquarters of some of the world’s largest investment banks and insurance companies. Because you’re playing in the big league it pays to know a little of the in’s and out’s of Japanese social protocol to enhance your chances of hitting it off with new business partners. Japanese etiquette is a fascinating, complex system based on ancient principals and traditions of honour and respect. Regardless of the season men and women should best opt for a conservative wardrobe colour palette of navy blue, grey and white; avoid black ties or an all-black look for women – this is funeral attire. In business it’s considered unacceptable for women to go without stockings; also make sure that you’re stocking and socks are hole-free as it’s customary to remove your shoes when entering certain buildings as a gesture of respect and deference.
Stand out Harajuku Style
Tokyo is one of the most innovative and provocative world centres for fashion. The Harajuku district is famous for it’s outlandish fashions which are all grouped under distinct denominations such as ‘Gothic Lolita’ which focuses on an hyper-feminine, child-like version of Victorian mourning attire, or ‘Gyaru’ style which focuses on elaborate blonde wigs, false eyelashes and nails and lashings of fake tan.
Bow Down and Carry On
When and how to bow upon greeting is such a richly complicated system that the average non-Japanese person is exempt from an attempt to comprehend it, and a slight bow will be an appreciated attempt. Business cards are a significant part of corporate interactions so make sure you have a big stash on hand. Present it using both hands combined with a bow and it will be received in the same reverential way, as an important symbol of the encounter.