Editor’s Note: Kee Muromoto, owner of Mura at North Hills and Asuka in Research Triangle Park, and is a serial entrepreneur.

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Southeast is quickly finding itself home to a growing number of Japanese companies and executives. Companies such as Astellas Pharma, Eisai and others are making headlines as they enter our market. It has also become commonplace to see local companies in the headlines as they forge strategic partnerships with Japanese companies. Seertech Corporation, Lancope Inc. and Inspire Pharmaceuticals are just few examples of companies that have been covered in Local Tech Wire recently for announcing this type of partnership.

As the owner of two Japanese restaurants, Mura at North Hills and Asuka in the RTP, I constantly see American businessmen trying to practice what they believe to be proper Japanese etiquette when entertaining a Japanese associate. The art of Japanese etiquette can be confusing and difficult to grasp for some Americans, but the basics are actually quite simple.

As I’ve discovered through being in the restaurant business and watching first hand, some Americans have trouble adapting their communication skills and eating habits to those more appreciated by the Japanese culture. Perhaps this occurs because they are worried about offending their guests or they feel that they should mimic their Japanese guests’ behavior. However, although the “follow-the-leader” approach is effective and sometimes even respectable, originality is also honorable, as long as it’s your effort that shows and not your ego.

Following are 13 tips on Japanese etiquette that are sure to keep you and your associates in good company.

1 — It is customary to bow when meeting a Japanese person, but not necessary. Even a slight nod of the head is acceptable. Any attempt to try to honor the Japanese traditions through greetings is a good way to make a first impression. However, most Japanese are familiar with the firm, American hand shake, which is just as respectable in their eyes.

2 — When exchanging business cards, always place the card in your front shirt pocket and not in your pants pocket. Placing it in your shirt pocket shows that you value the card enough to make sure you keep it in an important and safe place where you are sure not to forget it. Putting it in your pants pocket would suggest that you plan to sit on it later, which would not be appreciated by anyone, especially the Japanese.

3 — Preparation is the most important etiquette technique I can offer when entertaining Japanese counterparts. Japanese pay very close attention to the amount of thought and detail that goes into something that is being provided to them, be it a meeting, a gift, or a dinner. Whatever it is, make sure you are prepared and punctual.

On that same note, the “if you’re 5 minutes early, you’re on-time and if you’re on-time you’re late” rule definitely applies when it comes to meeting with Japanese businesspeople. Be punctual and make sure you know, in detail, all the events in which you will be participating. Things need to run as smoothly as possible when it comes to business with the Japanese; they appreciate knowing that things are completely taken care of them for them.

4 — If you are ever invited into a Japanese home for dinner, take your shoes off and leave them by the door. I cannot stress that enough and it is one of the best ways to demonstrate respect for the Japanese culture and the Japanese family you are visiting. Also, bring a gift that shows your appreciation for being invited into their home as it is a great honor to be invited.

5 — When giving a gift, most things are acceptable, while others can come across as totally unnecessary and excessive. I would not recommend giving a Japanese businessman tickets to a theatre show, a new briefcase or even a nice picture frame. They could care less about those things. Japanese particularly enjoy two types of gifts; either something they can consume (i.e. food, wine, chocolate, etc) or something they can display in their home like flowers, candles, or even something representing their heritage.

6 — There is a big misconception about chopsticks. Chopsticks are not mandatory when dining with the Japanese. It is not disrespectful to ask for a fork and it would be more respectful for you to use a fork, if you aren’t good at using chopsticks. And if you do decide to use chopsticks, never pick yours up before your Japanese guest. When you have finished your meal, place your chopsticks on the side of your plate. Never stick them in your food because in Japanese culture that is a custom performed at funerals. The main rule here, especially when dining out, is follow, don’t lead; or in other words, do as your guest does.

7 — When dining out, especially under business circumstances, when the “head boss” is finished eating, you too are finished eating, even if you’re not really finished. The same rule applies while drinking.

8 — It is customary, in Japanese culture, to re-fill everyone’s drink, but not your own. Not to worry, this works both ways, as the Japanese know they are supposed to re-fill your drink as well. Never let someone’s glass become completely empty and when you re-fill others’ drinks always use two-hands. If pouring drinks for other people seems awkward to you, ask them if they would like you to re-fill their drink before just reaching across the table.

9 — When it comes to what to eat while dining out, if you’re not sure, eat whatever your guests are eating. Otherwise, if you choose not to go to a Japanese restaurant, just remember that many Japanese are lactose intolerant and you should stay away from restaurants that contain lots of dairy products.

10 — In regards to conversation while dining out, avoid western cultural references as to not exclude any of your Japanese guests. Stick to business-like topics or things you know that everyone at the table would be able to comment on.

11 — As for sushi, there is really only one rule. Sushi is made to be eaten in one bite, as a bite-size piece. Do not bite or cut the sushi in half, or unroll it to eat what’s inside. Eat it as it comes, in one-bite, always.

12 — It is alright if you cannot pronounce a Japanese name and it is certainly not offensive to ask someone to pronounce their name for you. Contrary to popular belief, Japanese names are fairly easy to pronounce as they are made-up of small syllables, but they just appear to be difficult to pronounce for Americans because the spelling and pronunciation is unfamiliar. Try to sound it out first, and if you’re still not sure, just ask.

13 — This may actually surprise some Americans, but occasionally the Japanese enjoy a taste of Western culture. Set up a tee time to play at a nice golf course or take your Japanese counterparts to a Carolina Hurricanes game, and definitely make sure to buy them a t-shirt, hat or some kind of souvenir to take home with them.

Just remember if you’re in an unfamiliar situation with your Japanese associates and you are feeling uncomfortable about what to say, how to act, what to eat or whatever it may be, it’s OK to ask what you should do. Japanese people don’t expect you to know their culture, habits or traditional background, just as you shouldn’t expect them to be totally familiar with the Western culture. Most importantly, be punctual, prepared and polite.