The Art of the Japanese Business Introduction
By Mark Kennedy
As with one’s self-introduction, it is important to follow a basic set of rules to introduce others correctly within the context of Japanese culture. This is particularly true in a business setting. As most of the “rules” can be boiled down to common sense, there is, however, no need to obsess about proper protocol. Just learn the pointers, and the process of introducing others should come naturally.
As with many other business interactions, the relative social status of the people in the room has a direct influence on the proper order with which to introduce others. The general rule of thumb is the proverbial “rank has its privileges.” In other words, the most senior ranking people are, in general, to be introduced first.
Let’s assume that you need to introduce to an important client your boss and another representative from your company ranked at generally the same level as your own. The correct order with which to introduce your colleagues would be to begin with your boss and then move on to the lower ranking associate. The same rule applies when you are making introductions to more than one person of another organization. The senior-most individuals are to be introduced to each other first and so-forth. When you have multiple people to introduce, it often helps to line up your colleagues in rank order to ensure that the whole process can proceed smoothly.
You should introduce each person simply by their title and surname without -san.
Now you need to learn how to go about making the introduction. Always remember “yobi sute” (呼び捨て) or the practice of dropping the “-san” after the end of someone’s name. Just as you would never add “-san” when making a self-introduction, in the presence of your customer, for example, all members of your organization—regardless of their relative status—are to be referred to by name without the “-san” tacked on at the end in order to appear humble. While everyone is still standing up, you should introduce each person simply by their title and surname without “-san.”
Let’s assume that you are a sales person based in Sendai responsible for Miyagi Prefecture. Today for the first time you will be introducing your colleagues to an important distributor in Sendai. You are, in particular, accompanied by the following two associates: Your boss, Ms. Mariko Kato, who is the head of the sales department in charge of the Tohoku Region and Mr. Murakami Yusuke, a product manager. You will be meeting the president of your distributor in Sendai, Mr. Masaaki Tanaka, and your primary contact at this customer, Ms. Emiko Shiina, a sales director. Because she is the highest ranking member of your group present today, you would begin by introducing your boss to President Tanaka as “Tohoku Chiku Bucho no Kato” (東北営業部長の加藤). Next you would introduce your boss to Sales Director Shiina, before moving on to introduce your other colleague as “Prodakuto Maneja no Murakami”(プロダクトマネージャーの村上) to President Tanaka and Sales Director Shiina.
In addition to introducing your colleagues simply by their title and surname, it is okay to embellish a bit by adding a relative fact (e.g., previous responsibility for a particular product, long tenure, etc.). The key is, however, to focus on titles and names to enable the other person to gain a sense for their relative status and help them to remember names.
By the way, one more thing to keep in mind regarding “yobi sute” (呼び捨て) is that it applies to anyone in your organization even if they are not present. This is true even if they are members of the top management of your firm. Thus, let’s assume that the name of the chairman of your company is Mr. Haruto Nogami. During a discussion with your client when the chairman is not present you would simply say “Kaicho no Nogami” (会長の野上) instead of saying “Nogami-san.”
In the midst of all of these introductions your colleagues are certainly going to exchange a lot of business cards which is, of course, an art by itself. After everyone sits down according to the correct seating arrangement and places the business cards that they have received in front of them in the order in which each of their counterparts has been seated—another art—you may need to help your colleagues to ensure that they have everyone’s business cards in the proper order.
All of this may seem like a lot of extraneous protocol, but it actually helps to clarify each person’s role and relative status. By taking time up front to ensure that proper introductions are made, the senior ranking people in the room will typically lead the conversation beginning with small talk to break the ice. After a few opportunities to introduce your colleagues, you’ll find that the practice will come naturally.