Seating and Introductions
Well thought-out organization of a room and strategic seating assignments have been known to have psychological effects on people's attitudes. When conducting business, seating arrangements can be as important as the agenda. In Japan, these arrangements are determined by custom.
If you are the guest of a Japanese company, you will most likely be treated like royalty from start to finish, and this includes occupying the seat of honor. If the room is washitsu (Japanese style with tatami mats), the guest or the highest-ranking member of the party will be seated near the toko-noma. The tokonoma is a kind of alcove with a slightly raised floor, usually decorated with calligraphy scrolls and ikebana. The seat in front of the toko-noma is the kamiza (“seat of honor”) and will always be reserved for the president of the visiting company, an honored guest, or the most important person in the room:
Doozo, kochirae suwatte kudasai.
Please sit here.
If the room has a table and chairs rather than tatami, the seat farthest from the entrance is the place of honor. Once it has been determined who will occupy the kamiza, other members of the company should sit in order of rank, with the lowest ranking person seated in the shimoza (“worst spot”). The shimoza is usually closest to the door and will most likely be occupied by the person who arranged the meeting.
In a car, the philosophy that the point furthest from the entrance is the place of honor persists. This means that the highest-ranking individual will be given the seat behind the driver. You may often see grandmothers proudly occupying this spot in the family car.
Who Does the Talking
Much like companies in the West, Japanese businesses are organized according to a hierarchy. The shachoo (“president”) obviously runs the show. The buchoo (“division managers”) help keep things organized, while the kachoo (“supervisors”) keep the tantoosha (“workers”) in line.
The designated tantoosha is responsible for setting up the meeting. This will usually be done by phone. When making a formal inquiry by phone to see if someone is in the office, the honorific form of imasu is used:
Tanaka-san wa irasshaimasu ka.
Is Ms. Tanaka there?
Note the double elongated sh sound in -ssha. You may also hear this honorific verb when you arrive. The tantoosha will greet the guests at the door (or sometimes even pick them up from their hotel) and bring them to the meeting room:
I'm glad you have come.
He or she will also make the initial introductions:
Kochira wa uchi no shachoo desu.
This is our company president.
Sono tonari wa watashi no kachoo desu.
Next to him is my supervisor.
Notice how the word uchi is used to describe the company boss. In this instance, it does not refer to the person's home, but rather the person's company and is another way of saying “my” or “our.”