Japan is a highly formal society with extremely polite people, greeting someone for the first time can often be like a formal ritual with a strict script followed, especially with business dealings.
If you are in Japan on holiday you probably may not notice some of the customs involved with meeting someone, if you meet someone in a bar they will be fairly relaxed and friendly. In a business setting, the art of greeting someone is extremely serious and almost tea ceremony like in ritual.
Most Japanese people are addressed by their surname, and the title of san is attached to the name. For example if you were Mr Jones in a western country you would be Jones-san and Mrs Smith would be Smith-san, the extension is the same for both sexes (it can be used for other things like animals too). A Japanese example is Iron Chef Chen Kenichi who is the son of Chen Kenmin, he often refered to on the show as Chen-san. Kun is also used in place of san when adults refer to younger males. People with respected status, and this can include the elderly, a politician or even a teacher may get the Sensei extension; so Mr Brown would known as Brown-Sensei. Often famous Japanese people will revert their name to a western format, one example is Yoko Ono.
Bowing – See our bowing page
Business cards or Meishi are a extremely important commodity in Japan and must be treated with the utmost respect. When being offered a business card you should take it with two hands and study the card for a few seconds. Do not pop it in your pocket or wallet until after the meeting, always place it in front of you. Never write a phone number or any other information on the card as this is not polite. It is also customary to bow when passing and receiving a business card.
If you are meeting with people at a table, it is essential that the honoured guest sits on the kamiza or honoured seat. It is usually located farthest from the entrance. The host or least influential person usually sits nearer to the entrance. Probably the most politest thing to do is wait until you are directed to your position by the host of the meeting or dinner.
If you are visiting someone’s house, it is particularly good manners to take a present called a Temiyage. Ideas might include some sweets, sake or a bottle of wine, but the best idea for foreigners is take something from your home land. The Japanese love stuffed toys, a plush native animal of your home country would be a perfect gift and much appreciated; if you plan to visit someone, pick one up before you leave. The Japanese love wrapping, so fine wrapping and beautiful ribbons add value to the gift.