Business cards (meishi) are serious business in Japan. How you deal with business cards sends a strong message about who you are as a professional in Japan.
Follow these 10 golden rules of meishi to impress your customers, partners and coworkers:
1. Introductions At Japanese companies, internal meetings are relatively informal. However, meetings with external companies always involve formal introductions. Stand up and walk to the most senior person in the other company and introduce yourself. Bow slightly and say “Hajimemashite”. Offer your business card. Say your affiliation (company name), position and name. The person will extend the same greeting to you. It’s important that you visibly acknowledge the card. Take their card and read it before taking your eyes off it. Move to the next most senior person. The group you’re meeting will most likely line up by rank to make this easier for you. Never present cards casually or slide them to someone across the table. If someone comes in late — wait until after the meeting and then formally introduce yourself.
2. Two-Handed Card Handling Always present and accept cards with two hands. This is considered a humble gesture. Make sure that your card is presented with the Japanese side right side up (so the other person can read it).
3. Card Quality Make sure that your cards are in pristine condition. Never give out a damaged, folded or wrinkled card. It is advisable to bring a proper case for your business cards.
4. Respect Cards When you sit down after introductions carefully arrange the cards you received on the table in front of you. These serve as a useful reference to remember names during the meeting. Never play with cards, bend or write on them. After the meeting tuck them carefully into your meishi case. Never forget a card in the meeting room.
5. Keep the Cards Meishi are only given out at first introductions. Never admit to losing a meishi. Japanese professionals keep acquired business cards in meishi binders or cases for many years. Never dispose of a card until you’re absolutely sure you’ll never see the person again.
6. Japanese is Appreciated Double-sided Japanese-English business cards have become commonplace in Japan. If you’re working in Japan it’s essential to have Japanese on your business card. If you’re meeting Japanese customers in Japan you should make the effort to have Japanese cards printed.
7. Bonus Points Here are a few points of etiquette that will make you more Japanese than Japanese: present your card lower than your counterpart when they have a higher status (e.g. a customer) when placing the cards on the table put the highest-ranking person’s meishi in the best spot (such as on top of your meishi case).
8. A Little Extra I remember a story of a well-known hotel chain’s business card that I had printed for the Japanese market – the translation of mobile wasn’t checked correctly (in terms of meaning, not correct spelling) and ended up communicating them as a very unfavorable person, a person who would be part of a gang. Definitely not someone you would want to be doing business with!