I just arrived in Japan last night and was met by colleagues in divisional headquarters. I and many of my visiting colleagues greeted our hosts / counterparts with handshakes and hugs as a sign of expected informality / friendship.
However, I and some of my US colleagues noticed our Japanese counterparts seemed hesitant and a distinct moment of confusion / unease was apparent. Our Japanese counterparts also seemed rather formal and reserved rather than warm and open. Our side had small talk and some laughter meant to break the ice / mingle between colleagues of varying hierarchy. The local colleagues seemed more nervous rather than more casual / open. Social conversation did not flow and interaction felt awkward. Ritualized norms seemed to be holding back local colleagues as if permission was needed.
Our visiting side had several varying levels of seniority from staff (non-management) all the way to senior management (think director and up). Colleagues were both men and women. In the US, informal greetings between colleagues as acknowledgment of familiarity and friendship is culturally rather normal.
Regarding hugging, I have seen colleagues hug at holiday parties and colleagues who have not met for a long time. I have hugged and received a brief hug from colleagues and it was no big deal, seen as a symbol of familiarity and good will building.
- As visitors not very familiar with local business norms in Japan, did our side commit a faux pas?
- What is the expected greeting between colleagues in the local culture of Japan?
- Is is advisable to apologize (risking worsening of situation due to cultural unfamiliarity), or better to ignore/move on?
- What explains the unexpected reaction of local colleagues becoming more uptight rather than informal / authentic / casual upon using small talk , laughter , and ice breakers?