Business cards hold significant importance in Japan. You can’t go to a meeting or official event without bringing a business card or else you would look unprofessional. It's considered a way of introducing oneself and establishing a professional connection.
Japanese Business Card
A business card, or “meishi” in Japanese, typically includes essential information presented in a clear, organized manner, and minimalistic design. Some key elements are must included on Japanese business cards:
The name of the company or organization should be written in big letters on top of the business card. The company logo is not mandatory, but it would add a professional touch and help in brand recognition.
Full name is a crucial element. Write surname or family name in front of first name. If you have a professional title, it can be included below your name.
Position and department
The title or position within the company must be written before or after the full name. It helps the recipient of your card to address you properly.
Add the address of your company's main office or a relevant branch, as well as the contact number.
Write a professional email address and business phone number where others can contact you for business purposes. Some individuals choose to include their LinkedIn profile or other professional social media profiles, especially in international business contexts.
If you're from a non-Japanese background, it's advisable to have the reverse side of the card printed with the information translated into Japanese. It’s a thoughtful way to facilitate communication and show cultural awareness.
Exchanging Card Etiquette
Exchanging business cards in Japan is a formal and customary practice that signifies respect, professionalism, and a genuine interest in building connections. It involves a specific etiquette that reflects cultural norms and values. Here's a step-by-step guide on what to do when exchanging business cards in a Japanese business setting:
1. Always carry enough business cards
It's customary to exchange cards with everyone present in a meeting or a formal gathering, therefore you have to make sure to bring a sufficient number of business cards. Not having enough cards could be perceived as a lack of preparedness and may hinder the establishment of positive and meaningful relationships, potentially impacting the success of your business interactions.
2. Use a business card holder
Prepare your business cards in a professional-looking case. It helps you keep your cards organized, prevents them from getting damaged, and makes it easier to present and receive cards with both hands—a gesture of respect in Japanese business culture. Business card holders can be made from a variety of materials, such as leather, metal, wood, plastic, and fabric. Put your card holder in your inner chest pocket or bag.
3. Basic manners when exchanging business card
Standing face-to-face reinforces the formality and importance of the business card exchange ritual in Japanese culture, emphasizing the significance of the interaction. Avoid handing cards over to a table. Hand your business card with the text facing the recipient so they can read the information easily without having to turn the card. As you receive the card, bow slightly to express your gratitude and acknowledge the person.
4. Use both hands
Use both hands when giving or accepting business cards. However, if you are going to give and accept cards at once, these are the steps. First, use your right hand to offer your business card and hold your card holder on the left. Then, receive the other person’s card with your left hand or on top of your cardholder. After handing over your card, use your right hand to hold the other person’s card as well, so now both hands are holding it. Make sure both of you are prepared to do it at the same time.
Exchanging card at the same time
5. Examine the card
Take a moment to carefully examine the business card you receive. This demonstrates genuine interest in the person and their professional details. Pay attention to titles and positions on the business cards, as hierarchy is significant in Japanese business culture. Address individuals using their titles and show respect for seniority. It’s okay to read the name out loud to check if you are saying it correctly or not.
6. Make a positive comment and express appreciation
After examining the card, you can make a positive comment about it. This could include praising the design, expressing interest in the company, or complimenting the individual's title. You can also verbally express your appreciation for the card. You might say "arigatou gozaimasu" (thank you very much) or "choudai itashimasu" (I will gladly receive it).
7. Store cards properly
After the exchange, keep the received cards on the table in front of you during the meeting. Place the cards on top of your cardholder and put them on the left side of the table. If you receive multiple cards, put the most superior person’s card on the cardholder and line up the others on the table. Do not stack the cards. Position the received business cards facing you so you can read them with ease.
8. Do not write on the card
Avoid writing on the business card you receive unless it's part of a specific business ritual. Writing on someone's card can be considered disrespectful.
9. Follow the order
There are two protocols for exchanging business cards in Japan, depending on the situation. First, when visiting another company for sales purposes, the visiting group initiates the exchange. It’s started by the person with the highest rank and followed by their subordinates. Second, when visiting someone or attending an event, individuals of lower rank typically present their cards first. In situations involving multiple people, initiate the exchange with the most superior person and proceed to work your way down.
What if I forgot or ran out of business cards?
While it's ideal to bring and exchange business cards in Japan as a part of business etiquette, if you happen to forget or don't have your business cards during a meeting, it's not the end of the world. You have to politely apologize for not having your business cards and explain the situation. Honesty and humility are valued in Japanese culture, and a sincere apology goes a long way.
You can still ask for the other’s business card even if you don’t bring one to exchange. Express your interest in maintaining the connection and explain that you would like to have their contact information for future reference. You can share your contact details verbally and as soon as possible, follow up with them. Send an email containing contact details and your gratitude for the meeting.
Exchanging business cards in Japan is not as simple as swapping personal information. It's a ritual that signifies respect, hierarchy, and a commitment to building relationships. The intricate rules, like offering and receiving with both hands, the order of exchange based on rank, and the careful examination of each card, all contribute to a nuanced process. While it might feel a bit complicated, it is a key to unlocking the doors of successful business interactions in Japan.