What shocks Japanese about Israeli business culture

I have spent hundreds and perhaps a thousand hours working with Japanese teams and Israeli teams who need to interact, generally around the introduction of new products into the Japanese market.

There are probably few cultures as different as the Israelis and the Japanese. And it would be fair to say that I could write 100 things that appear shocking to the Japanese. I have chosen the top three.

1) An Israeli firm can send a team to a customer and the Israeli team can argue amongst themselves in front of the customer. In Israeli business culture, argument is a sign of commitment! The Israelis believe that the Japanese customer will appreciate their openness, and respect the fact that no one echoes “the party line”

2) The Israelis view severe quality issues of emerging technology as part of the game. You innovate, you introduce the product, and you mop up the mess. The Japanese customer “needs to know the risks  if they buy innovative products”.

3) The Israeli communication style of very, very open, far more open than any style they have encountered. An Israeli can easily tell anyone “ you are totally wrong”, “not true” or “let me correct you”. Needless to say, this ain’t what the Japanese are used to!

Yet strangely, there are many things which are very similar in the two business cultures: very very hard work, an emphasis on commitment, more loyalty to the work place than to one’s career…..and lots of jokes about Americans.

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5 thoughts on “What shocks Japanese about Israeli business culture

  1. Very insightful, Allon, I liked your top three. I have worked for 11 years with Japanese business people and their cross-cultural challenges, but I haven’t had much direct experience with Isreli business culture, so this was very helpful. Especially agree with #1. Most of my Japanese clients and coachees would be appalled if counterparts openly argued in front of them! #2 also resonated very strongly. I would add to that the Japanese perspective. B2B customers and consumers are accustomed to a very high quality of products, efficiency and function, and often struggle with the process of working out bugs AFTER a product is on the market. This is because THEIR Japanese clients simply don’t tolerate such imperfections, which continues to reinforce a very detail-oriented and risk-averse culture.

    Thanks for the informative piece

  2. Hi Allon,

    I may be stating the obvious, but here goes…
    I’ve worked with Israeli and Japanese firms and when dealing with nationals, the business cultures are very, very different! I know the Japanese respect the success that Israel has achieved, being an even smaller country than Japan, and surrounded by potential adversaries. Re business dress, the Japanese are very formal and Israelis are about as casual as Americans wish they could be. That same difference is apparent in business conversations as well. Israelis tend to not stand on formalities and are much more likely to lay their cards on the table. Israelis, having lived under frequent periods of potential violence are pretty willing to dismiss minor problems, as “it is not a life.” The Japanese tend to prefer much more order–unless it’s a dinner business meeting where drinks flow freely. Both cultures have a smoking problem and both are driven to succeed. Off the business subject, both countries have a right of return…immediate citizenship for those living abroad who are ancestrally connected.

  3. Shalom Allon, and many thanks for the article, as well as thanks to those who commented. I, too, have worked with the Japanese and Israelis and had the untold pleasure of having been married to a Japanese for nearly 40 years. I was therefore able to learn their culture first hand as well as having lived and worked in Japan for a great number of years.
    Your observations support my experiences, as well as frustrations. It always seemed the Japanese were fascinated by the Israelis, but somehwhat startled and taken aback when the Israelis began arguing and disagreeing among themselves.
    In light of this, may I refer you all to a most interesting and dispassionate book, “Jews in the Japanese Mind,” written by David G. Goodman and Masanori Miyazawa. It was published by Simon and Shuster in 1995.
    It’s a fascinating read.
    Best wishes from Beijing.
    Much of what was written stills holds true.

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