Japan Intercultural Consulting - UK

Improving Cross-cultural Communications and Business Practices

Japan Intercultural Consulting is the leading training and consulting firm in the UK focused on Japanese business.

We help clients improve working relationships in multicultural environments with cross-cultural awareness training seminars, management and communication skills training seminars, teambuilding programs, human resource management consulting, and executive coaching services.

We have worked with around 150 Japanese companies and their partners in the UK since 2004.

Pernille Rudlin

Bowing versus shaking hands

When I attend various shinnenkai (New Year’s parties) at the beginning of each year, I find it hard to snap back into remembering to bow properly, whilst negotiating my wine and canapés, and exchanging akemashite omedetou ("Happy New Year") with Japanese business acquaintances.

It feels awkward at first if I haven't been socialising with Japanese people for a while, but thanks to my time in a Japanese school, where we bowed every morning to the teacher, and had twice weekly outdoor assemblies where we rehearsed standing at ease, then standing to attention, then bowing – the proper way to bow is somewhat instinctive for me.

For most non-Japanese people, bowing correctly is a challenge, and in my opinion, we worry too much about it. Most Japanese people, when meeting with a foreign person, will expect to shake hands. I usually advise that a slight nod of the head or bend at the waist is a good cultural compromise when shaking hands with a Japanese person. If you have not been brought up to bow, and also had it drilled into you again at an induction course in a Japanese company, when you do try to do a full bow, you will almost certainly get it wrong. Bowing too deeply or for too long a time will result in your Japanese counterpart feeling obliged to dip down again for a further round of needless bowing.

You often see this happening in public in Japan, where neither party wants to stop bowing first, in order to show respect. In the mid-1990s, an English-language magazine targeting Tokyo’s expat community extrapolated on this phenomenon by publishing an April Fool’s article saying authorities were going to set up “no bowing” zones, near revolving doors and on station platforms as excessive bowing was causing a safety hazard. Plenty of people believed the article.

I do know of one case where bowing actually did lead to physical injury. A British employee of a Japanese company in Europe related the story to me: “Our new Japanese Managing Director for Europe was going round all the departments to introduce himself and as he turned to me I put out my hand to shake hands. He, however, had started to bow down low, and I caught him right in the eye. Fortunately it turned out he has a good sense of humour, and whenever I see him in the corridor now, he covers his eye with his hand!”

Bowing is deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche, it would seem. One Japanese friend of mine, who has been living in the UK for 30 years, still bows whenever he meets a Japanese person, even in the streets of London. I asked another Japanese friend of mine, who has also been living for many years in London, if she would ever consider hugging her mother when she came to meet her at Narita airport each time she returns to Japan. “Ewww no!” she said, and then laughed, realising how years of kissing, hugging and shaking hands in the UK had made no impact on her instincts at all.

This article by Pernille Rudlin originally appeared in the Nikkei Weekly.  This and other articles are available as an e-book “Omoiyari: 6 Steps to Getting it Right with Japanese Customers”



Pernille Rudlin

British Customer Service Has Improved - or is it just the Technology?

I asked two Japanese expatriates who were both on their second stint in the UK what had changed since their last stay in the UK 10 or so years’ ago.  To my surprise, both said that they thought customer service had improved.

My initial response was that this was probably due to the big increase in people from Eastern Europe who are working as waiters, shop assistants and so on, with far more enthusiasm and efficiency than had been normal in the UK in the past.

But on discussing this further, and thinking about my own recent experiences, I realise the improvement they were talking about has more to do with technology than the cultural mindset of service sector employees.  One of the Japanese expatriates said “when you arrange for someone to come to your house to repair something, they arrive when they say they will”.  This used not to be the case – you could take a whole day off work waiting for someone and not even get a phone call explaining the delay.

Read More



Pernille Rudlin

Japanese Investors in UK Considering Shifting Operations to Asia, the Americas Post Brexit  

Although over half of the of the 10,508 Japanese companies surveyed by the Teikoku Databank thought Brexit would have a negative impact on the Japanese economy, it is a salutary reminder that not only the UK but also the EU are just a small corner of the Japanese corporate environment that only 9.2% had business in the UK or other EU countries.  A tiny 1.9% had actually set up sales arms or local subsidiaries, with 7.5% having collaborative agreements or importing/exporting from the EU or some other indirect business.  Unsurprisingly, the larger the company, the more likely they were to be active in Europe.  Manufacturers and wholesalers were dominant, but financial services companies represented the top direct investors.

Read More



Pernille Rudlin

What Steps We Will Take Next - Japan's Insurance, Automotive, Aerospace Post Brexit


The Nikkei Business magazine has started a series called “Brexit shock”, where they ask various leading executives with business interests in Europe what they think the impact will be.  This week they’ve interviewed Tsuyoshi Nagano, CEO ofTokio MarineHoldings (property and casualty insurance) and Yoshihisa Kainuma, President of Minebea (another one of those Japanese secret successes with dominant shares in vital but unglamorous sectors such as ball bearings and pivot assemblies).

Tokio Marine acquired Kiln, a Lloyds underwriter in 2007 and the US company HCC Insurance, which also has a presence in the UK.  “The UK has developed as the centre of our European business” says Nagano.

Read More