A businessman told me this week: “I knew I’d been successful in business when my Japanese business partner hugged me.”
The embrace came after a long period of negotiation. The businessman, a British gentleman in his sixties, was hugged by his Japanese associate after they reached a deal between their companies.
“It was special,” the businessman told me, “because the Japanese are not usually tactile and they don’t normally show their feelings physically.”
He went on to explain that he has been doing business in Japan for many years and has built up trust with his clients on many visits. When his clients came to England, he took them to a traditional pub and they greatly enjoyed the occasion.
Outside of pubs, bars and izakayas, doing business with the Japanese is not usually an emotional experience. In fact, one common complaint from those who go into meetings with the Japanese is that you can’t tell what they are feeling.
Another person I spoke to to at a conference organised by Asia House was a Chinese banker from Singapore. We talked about the different approach of Chinese and the Japanese business people when it comes to dealing with other Asian countries.
“The Chinese are very clear about things and that is why they succeed,” he said. He explained that if a Chinese organisation was bidding for a contract, it would begin by trying to find out what the client wants. The Chinese will also try to build a friendship with their potential partner, asking him where he goes on holiday and so on. They might even pay for their client’s holiday, he said.
He contrasted this with the Japanese, who he said tended to overwhelm their potential customer with information about their company and their product – especially technical information which was not particularly useful.
His view is that this helps the Chinese to succeed when they are in competition with Japan.
One recent example is when Japan lost out to China on a $5bn deal to export high-speed rail to Indonesia last year.
Officially, the Chinese won because they had a better plan and a better price. I don’t know how the Chinese treated the Indonesian decision makers. Did they pay for them to go on holiday?
Whatever the reason, Japan would do well to learn from the experience because Indonesia has a lot of money to spend.
It wants other countries to help it develop its infrastructure – especially maritime facilities, ports, airports and roads. It is potentially a very lucrative market for Japan but the competition with China is intense.
And when choosing between China and Japan the Indonesians won’t just be swayed by technical expertise and cost – the human factor also will also play a crucial role.