Amid efforts to develop Russia and Japan's economic relations, the questions of culture in business constantly hover in the background.
In April, Russian state foreign investment bank Vneshekonombank (VEB), the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Japan Bank of International Cooperation agreed to establish a $1-billion bilateral investment platform.
Similarly, on October 30, a simplified visa regime came into effect, allowing Russian holders of 90-day Japanese visas to obtain three-year visas more easily, a rule aimed mainly at businesspeople, scholars, athletes and performers.
As things stand
In 2012, trade between the two countries increased by 13 percent to reach $33.5 billion, said a statement on the website of the Russian Embassy in Tokyo. Japan is the ninth largest importer of Russian goods, over 98 percent of which are raw materials, including oil and gas, metals, coal and timber.
The majority of Japan's exports, meanwhile, are manufactured products such as cars, trucks, and equipment for the construction, medical, broadcasting, printing and energy industries, the statement said. Japan is also among the top 10 foreign investors in Russia, with $10.7 billion of cumulative investment in 2012, and about 270 Japanese companies work here.
Russia's business presence in Japan, however, is still insignificant. The targets of the investment platform identified by the RDIF are projects in the Russian Far East: urban and infrastructure development, alternative energy sources and health care technology.
Culture in business
The desire for greater economic interaction can be complicated by the different perspectives each party brings to negotiations. When cross-cultural dialogue is involved, sealing agreements requires understanding the other party's background, in addition to what it is seeking to achieve.
Valery Kistanov, director of the Center for Japanese Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Far East Studies, said that a key difference between Russian and Japanese cultures is that Japanese tend to be more oriented to working in groups, whereas Russians tend to be more individualistic.
"The [Japanese] have an island psychology, and we have a continental psychology and culture," he told The Moscow News. "If you take collectives, then maybe Japanese collectives work more effectively, but if you talk about an individual plan, then I think a Russian by his very character is more energetic, enterprising, willing to take initiative, pays less attention to all kinds of rules and limits."
For Nadezha Yavdolyuk, executive director of the Silver Archer prize for public relations, the difference is reflected in the Japanese tradition of spending a whole career at one company.
"A long, even lifelong service at one company in Japan was considered a model of a career," she told The Moscow News in an e-mail. "In Russia there is no such criterion of success. Personal qualities are more important, education and sometimes the ability to push on ahead, take responsibility for very big projects, risk."
Perceptions of time
Japanese companies also tend to make decisions more slowly and deliberately, reacting less to revolutions in industry - as Russian companies can - than moving along a single path.
"One of the special qualities of a business relationship is a different sense of time. In Russian companies, there is a rapid turn in events," Yavdolyuk said. "In Japanese [companies], there is no ‘turn in events,' life simply flows. All decisions are prepared carefully, are weighed, are checked."
Directness in communications is another contrast. Instead of expressing disagreement over a project openly, Japanese negotiators will pick their words carefully.
"If Russians are more open and say more directly what they think and what they want, Japanese often express their thoughts more covertly, in allusions," Kistanov said. "The Japanese expressions ‘Maybe,' ‘I'll think about it,' can mean, in fact, a denial."
Masato Nakamura, a vice president at Panasonic in Moscow, told The Moscow News that he had not noticed much in terms of differences in behavior between Russians and Japanese at business meetings, but agreed that there is a greater directness in Russian communication.
"The Japanese style of communication is more ‘high-context' and the Russian style is relatively ‘low-context,' which means more direct expression is required," he said in an e-mail. "This difference is not unique to Japanese-Russian [communication], but it's [a] matter of multicultural communication."
Living for five years in Europe and heading up Panasonic's security system business in the EU for more than 15 years, he said he had noticed different communication styles even among European cultures, especially in the level of context.
A community spirit
One similarity between the two countries lies in their histories as agricultural states, Kistanov said, a status that lasted into the 20th century.
"Russia and Japan were at one time farming societies, with a farming population, and thus a community spirit is characteristic of Russia and Japan to this day," he said.
While the contrasts are difficult to grasp, an ability to understand them can make negotiations more fruitful.
The Moscow News is hosting a symposium via videolink between Moscow and Tokyo at the RIA Novosti Press Center on Monday, November 18, at 10 a.m. Moscow time. For more information, see http://www.themoscownews.com/conferences/20131105/192026984/The-role-of-business-and-media-in-the-Russian-Japanese-cultural.html
The Moscow News