The Japan Israel relationship: Sushi meets Hummus


The Japan Israel relationship is fascinating. Japanese and Israelis manage to overcome the differences in business culture and behavior and work well together, says Sophiya Berezansky of the Israel-Japan Friendship Society.

The intriguing connection between the two ancient cultures of Israel and Japan has recently become stronger and deeper. Japanese people are expressing more and more interest in visiting Israel. Once they come, they are captivated by its incredible diversity of people, flavors and colors. Here’s the story of this remarkable Japan Israel relationship.

While the Japanese have lived in the same place for over two thousand years, the Israeli chankonabe* emerged following its people’s return from the Diaspora after two thousand years of exile. As a result, business etiquette in Israel is quite different to that in Japan.

Sophiya Berezansky

The energy of the Israelis

The Israelis have exuberant facial expressions and gestures, a penchant for personal proximity in daily interactions and a boisterous manner of speaking. This can be downright intimidating to the newly arrived Japanese. As if being loud and in your face wasn’t enough, the Israeli practice of moving fast and pressing forward in reaching business decisions can be overwhelming. Israelis have informal behavior, tend to interrupt during meetings and may have emphatic arguments. Small companies don’t have rigid hierarchical relations. People are personal. They promote an environment where ideas can be discussed and developed at a much faster pace.

At business meetings, the dress code is casual. This encourages each side to have a more candid and open mode of communication – which the Israelis see as an advantage. Not surprisingly, you’ll hear quite a few questions at business meetings.This ‘casual interruption’ may rightfully shock the Japanese. But an Israeli who wants to out absolutely everything about his future colleague will see this as an essential step towards partnership. On the other hand, as far as sales are concerned, Israelis are known for being tough and stubborn salespeople with a ‘hard sell’ approach.

Wanting fast progress

Israel’s innovative spirit stimulates the desire to discover new and better product solutions. That’s one of the reasons why Israeli deadlines depend on fast progress – and sometimes remain flexible. This can be a potentially infuriating concept to those like the Japanese who come from more formal and disciplined business environments. On the other hand, keeping the same product type for prolonged periods of time – as is customary in Japan – may be seen as a disadvantage in Israel.

Japanese live in a relatively homogeneous environment where roles and rules are formally regulated. Coming to Israel, they meet not just diversity but also a vastly contrasting culture. It can be daunting and disorienting to experience such extreme differences. Certainly, in the Japan-Israel relationship, the two countries stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Opposites attract

Yet opposites truly do attract. The more different we are, the greater is our willingness and ability to understand one other. Israelis appreciate the Japanese exactly for the qualities that they lack themselves. They have composure, poised body language, reverence for privacy and personal space and economy of speech. Japanese business people prefer stability rather than uncertainty and risk. In addition, they are respected for their advanced managerial skills (especially in larger organizations), considerable patience and long-term business planning practices. They have insatiable curiosity about the Israeli culture. In turn, Japanese businesses appreciate the way that Israelis are comfortable in the international arena and connect with the rest of the world. They find this very attractive and beneficial.

It’s difficult for the Japanese people to visit Israel, but it is even more difficult for them to eventually leave. After they leave, their passion for Israel stays with them and they yearn to come back. So despite all the barriers, our nations have reciprocal respect, coupled with the mutual fascination and the desire to learn from each other. This is a formidable foundation for a strong Japan Israel relationship. It has immense potential that will certainly last for many years to come.

*chankonabe – a traditional Japanese sumo wrestlers’ dish. Chankonabe is not made according to a fixed recipe and often contains whatever is available to the cook. Basically, the dish includes almost every possible ingredient except (possibly) fruit, such as different kinds of meat, fish, tofu, vegetables, and so on.

Sophiya Berezansky is a Japan Specialist who holds a Master’s Degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Haifa. She is the General Manager of the Israel-Japan Friendship Society and Chamber of Commerce. She is a Calligraphy and Suiboku ga specialist and artist.

Historical Moments

In 1962, Golda Meir, the Foreign Minister of Israel, visited Japan and in July 1963 relations between the two countries developed to Embassy level.