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From The Asian Reporter, V13, #7 (February 11-17, 2003), page 16.

Business book offers cross-cultural insights

Going to Japan on Business, Third Edition

By Christalyn Brannen

Stone Bridge Press, 2002

Paperback, 176 pages, $14.95

By Oscar Johnson

Special to The Asian Reporter

Setting up shop, making a sell, or simply landing a job in Japan can require a cultural finesse best acquired through experience. Non-natives of this nation where western industry meshed with a refined system of eastern etiquette more than a half-century ago should ó at the very least ó read up before undertaking such tasks.

Now in its third and updated edition, Going to Japan on Business continues to offer essential basics for the non-Japanese embarking on what can often be a mysterious professional journey:

What is the difference between the company bucho and kacho? How does one read a potential business associate who prizes the poker-face as proper business etiquette? How important are business cards and seating arrangements? If it is bad form to say "no," how do you express or interpret a decline?

If nothing else, Christalyn Brannenís book serves as a red alert to the uninitiated about just how much they donít ó and perhaps should ó know when navigating the Japanese corporate world.

Written for the first-time visiting businessperson to Japan, the handy guide offers a brief introduction to major cities, hotels, and attractions. It also comes equipped with the standard palm-full of Japanese phrases helpful for getting around town. In addition, it comes with a glossary of business terms and titles so the reader can distinguish between the ucho, department head, and acho, section head.

But the meat sandwiched within Going to Japan on Businessís 176 pages is its concise summary of the "how tos" and "dos and doníts," which could also be useful for home-based courting of Japanese businesses and long-distance phone and e-mail encounters.

For native-born Americans and other Westerners, this guide can be equally useful for melting the cultural barriers in our own neighborhood pots ó whether the ingredients come from the North, Southern Hemisphere, or the West Hills.

In the case of American and Japanese business cultures, the formerís direct ambitious approach can ó without caution ó be detrimental against the backdrop of the latterís customary affable stoicism. Understanding and compensating for the differences, Brannen asserts, is the key to success.

"There are a few key concepts in Japanese business that you should know," Brannen explains. "Learning them will explain a great deal...."

The book offers tidbits on corporate Japan ranging from its seemingly rigid seniority system and customary deferential sales strategies, to its notably anti-inflammatory tradition of avoiding and resolving conflicts.

While not breaking any new ground, Brannenís matter-of-fact synopsis of the trinity of cultural traits in Japanís professional realm ó Ba, Ma, and Wa ó is digestible for both the harried businessperson and armchair multiculturalist alike.

The right behavior for the right place, an abrupt pause in conversation, and putting congeniality above all else can be mistaken for, respectively, schizophrenia, disapproval, or the literal "yes," which may really mean "no," she explains.

While in such matters the blunders and mistakes that come with experience are the best teachers, Going to Japan on Business is an ideal first read for the cross-Pacific professional who lacks experience and canít afford those blunders.


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