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Japanese Business Proverbs

Saru mo kikara ochiru – Even monkeys fall from trees: Well, nobody is perfect.  But this can also be a warning not to be too arrogant, because even experts make mistakes.

Nanakorobi yaoki – Seven times over eight times up: Like the rounded Daruma dolls that are weighted at the bottom so no matter how many times you knock them over, you should always pick yourself back up again.  Persistence is a key to success.

Kotoba ooki wa shina sukunashi  – Those with insufficient goods talk a lot:It’s the empty can that make the most noise.  Being talkative seems tacky.  The more you talk the more it looks like you’re are trying to cover up a deficit!

I no naka no kawazu wa taikai o shirazu – The frog in the well knows not the great sea: Staying in a small environment greatly limits our perception and understanding.  This concept could apply to the Japanese corporate custom of rotating people through departments to gain a broader understanding of the company as they move up the ladder.  

Koketsu ni irazunba koji o ezu – If you do not enter the tiger's cave, you will not catch its cub:  To gain something valuable you have to take some risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Deru kugi wa utareru – The nail that sticks out gets hammered down:Success comes through fitting in, not sticking out far, not “making waves” or being “the squeaky wheel.”   But then again, if you do not enter the tiger’s cave…

Ichi nan satte, mata ichi nan – One arrow can easily be broken, but a bundle of ten cannot:Similar to Benjamin Franklin’s “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."  Where an individual is weak or vulnerable, there is strength in a group.

Todai moto kurashi – At the foot of the lamppost it’s dark.  Although we see the things around us, sometimes we don’t see that which is closest to us.  In fact, probably hardest is to see ourselves.  This is also a good reminder to all of us that one of the keys to effectively crossing cultures is reflecting on oneself and one’s own culture!

by Diana Rowland author of Japanese Business: Rules of Engagement

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Rowland & Associates is a premier cross-cultural consulting firm, providing essential international business skills since 1985. Our passion is bringing intercultural business success through heightened insight and agility. We believe that bold steps with exceptional preparation can create dynamic solutions.


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Globalization has made cross-border business deals more common than ever. But, every day, deals are jeopardized or lost when foreign associates are offended by Americans unaware of other countries' customs, culture or manner. while traveling, meeting a foreigner here or communicating on the...



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