The ritual of exchanging meishi, which is Japanese for ‘business card,’ is a much higher valued practice in Japan than in the West. This guide will serve to help foreigners who are new to doing business in Japan avoid costly mistakes. Business card etiquette is one of if not the most important area of Japanese business culture.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about business card etiquette in Japan, as it will help you avoid the potentially hazardous consequences of not knowing or following proper protocol.
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The ritual of exchanging business cards, like every ceremony in Japan, is based on respect for order and rank, which means there is a hierarchal order to follow that governs business card exchange. Knowing this order can keep you from finding yourself in an embarrassing situation, and prevent an important business arrangement from going sour.
While one person may be the main conductor of a meeting, this doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is the highest-ranking official in the room. When meeting in a group setting, those in higher-ranking positions should be the first to exchange their business cards, working their way down in rank to the lowest position.
For a successful business card exchange that will definitely garner the respect of your new colleagues, there is a process that must be strictly followed without deviation. Following this process will no doubt leave a positive impression on your contemporaries, leading to fruitful international future business ventures.
Know how many people will be attending a meeting, and always ensure you have enough business cards in advance of the meeting. If you find that you don’t have enough, or run out during the meeting, be honest and apologize for your error.
Store your cards in an easily accessible place apart from your wallet where they can be pulled out and presented immediately. Investing in a business card case with a dedicated spot in your bag or purse will go a long way.
Offer your business card with your right hand, and hold it by the top corner, so as not to cover any names or logos. Your cardholder should be held in your left hand. Remember to bow, and remember to use the traditional Japanese phrases when introducing yourself. It should go something like this:
Hajime mashite (はじめまして)
Nice to meet you.
[Your name] to moshimasu (your nameと申します)
My name is ...
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu (よろしくお願いします)
Nice to meet you.
When you receive the other person's card, accept it with both hands, and hold it at a low position, no higher than your chest. Be sure to thank them for the card.
Read over the card and make sure you understand everything presented to you, most importantly the presenter's name. Practice saying their name, and if you don't know how to pronounce the person's name, it is not considered rude to ask.
Continue this practice until you have everyone's cards, and they have yours. Be mindful of the order of business card exchange, and arrange the cards you receive accordingly, as this will help you keep track of whom to address, and how to address them according to their rank.
Generally, it is considered impolite to put them away during a meeting. However, if you have a large number of materials or if the exchange of business cards becomes inconvenient, you can politely excuse yourself and put them in your card holder. It is important to put them away carefully when the meeting is over and you are preparing to leave. Be mindful not to forget them before leaving.
With all the subtleties to which a person must remember to adhere, there is little room for error when exchanging business cards in Japan. Avoid these common mistakes during the exchange process, as they can be possibly detrimental to a business encounter.
Do not write on a business card that you just received. Any information that the presenter wants you to have should already be printed on the card. Adding notes or scribbling on the back of a business card is considered extremely rude.
Also, do not place business cards you just received into your wallet or pocket. As stated before, it gives the impression of disrespect or that the other person’s card is unimportant to you.
If you are running low on business cards, or simply forgot to bring them with you, there are English-speaking business card printing services available in Japan to help get you prepared for your big meeting.
Mojo print offers business cards with different coatings and finishes to match the level at which you want to impress your clients and colleagues. They offer large quantities and quick turnaround times that help get you out of a troublesome situation.
K-1 print is located in Shinjuku and specialized in business cards.
Understanding that the foundation of Japanese culture is respect, knowing how to avoid the pitfalls of improper business card etiquette will ensure the rest of your meeting should go rather smoothly.
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