Localization: Training & Development in Japan

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By Jen Weaver, Carmazzi Global Solutions

JapanIn today’s article let’s explore some common cultural facts about the Japanese and their expectations when it comes to T&D. If you’re reading after business hours, you may enjoy this post alongside a meal of sake and sushi to get you in the appropriate mood.

Test your knowledge of Japanese culture with the Fun-Fact questions below:

  1. True or False. The Japanese are known for strong displays of affection and emotion.
  2. True or False. In Japan, the head of the government is the emperor.

Quick Tips for Training & Development in Japan1:

  • Japanese is the official language of Japan—go figure—and this language contains extensive nuances and subtleties. Students begin learning English at a young age but are typically more proficient in reading English than in speaking it. You will be well served to have all training materials in Japanese—both for learner comprehension and as a sign of consideration and respect.
  • The Japanese do not like being “lumped into” or related to other Asian cultures. Be careful when selecting images for your training materials that you do not assume Chinese models or visuals will play well in a Japanese audience.
  • Foreigners are not readily accepted in Japan, and Japanese people tend to be protective of their culture and heritage. Do your best to demonstrate respect towards their society and practices whenever possible.
  • Mistakes are expected to be followed by an apology, whether from an individual or a corporation. To neglect to offer an apology will diminish your credibility and has the potential to seriously damage your company’s brand.
  • Decision-making tends to be subjective while still adhering to traditional values. Consensus is of great value, so individuals may suddenly change their opinion for the sake of maintaining harmony within the group. Seek to build group buy-in as quickly as possible. On a related note, offer praise and recognition to a group as a whole, rather than singling out individuals.
  • Given the culture’s somewhat collectivistic perspective, individual actions are a reflection upon he group and family.
  • “Saving face” is huge in Japanese culture, so you’ll want to avoid the risk of embarrassing your Japanese counterparts at all costs.
  • Negatively phrased questions will result in miscommunication. For example, the question “Doesn’t this product sound amazing?” will be answered as “no”, meaning the product does indeed sound amazing, rather than with a “yes” response as expected in the States.
  • The workplace is a serious environment, so, typically, humorous stories or jokes in your training materials will be seen as out of place or misunderstood entirely.
  • The American “okay” sign means “money” in Japan, so be intentional with its usage in your materials. Better yet, remove it entirely, as this image is problematic in many cultures.

Fun-Fact Answers:

  1. You’re much better off using a “poker face” as a demonstration of self-control. Maintain a slight smile even if you are upset, and don’t be afraid of silence in a conversation, especially when negotiating.
  2. The emperor is the chief of state, and the prime minister is the head of the government.

Developing training & development materials for use in Japan? Contact Jen Weaver with Carmazzi Global Solutions for a free consultation.


1Morrison, Terri, & Conaway, Wayne A. (2006). Kiss, bow, or shake hands (2nd ed.). Avon: Adams Media.


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