Japan is infamously particular about the handling of business cards, or meishi. After considering that, during an exchange, people are offering up a piece of their identity, I wonder why more cultures don’t treat these personal rectangular representatives with more respect. After all, there’s no greater way to insult a new acquaintance than to practically ignore their name and livelihood. Though in English we call them business cards, the Japanese meishi can also be used for hobbies and more to express personality and offer important contact information, so they are often exchanged in casual meetings too. Even if you don’t have any company-issued cards, you should still have a stack of your own ready to go when the ritualistic passing of meishi begins.
Like many other mundane Japanese conventions, there are a number of complicated rules to remember for the meishi koukan (business card exchange) to avoid embarrassing yourself or insulting others. Here are some of the basics.
- Use a card holder
A card holder, or meishiire, is absolutely necessary. Simply shoving someone’s card into your pocket, wallet, or bag is considered very rude. Meishi are very important to Japanese people and deserve to be kept in a special place where they can forever remain just as pristine as the day they were received. A meishiire is also helpful to have so that you can quickly find and pull out your own card when needed.
- The highest ranking people exchange cards first
Especially in business situations, remember not to cut off your boss or other higher-ranking coworkers by offering your card to the other party first. While you wait, you can use the opportunity to prepare the proper number of business cards you need, so you don’t have to fumble around as everyone awkwardly watches in silence. Also, when exchanging cards at the same time with someone of higher rank, you should hold your card lower during the handoff.
- Handle business cards with both hands
This is probably one of the most common mistakes foreigners make during the meishi koukan. When giving and receiving cards, they should be held in both hands. During simultaneous exchanges, receive the card with your left hand while holding your own card at the top corner with your right hand.
- Remember to bow and introduce yourself
There are many situations that require a polite Japanese bow, and the exchanging of Japanese business cards is definitely one of them. Hold your card out in from of you facing the receiver and bend at a about 30゜angle. As you’re handing over your card, give a short introduction like “hajimemashite. [company name] no [your name] to moshimasu. yoroshikuonegaishimasu. (Nice to meet you. I am [your name] from [company name]).
- Properly acknowledge the card
After receiving someone’s meishi, it is polite to confirm the person’s name and position. Showing interest in them will leave a positive impact, while saying nothing is disrespectful. Commonly, after being given a card, people say “choudai itashimasu. [person’s name] desu ne. yoroshikuonegaishimasu.” (Thank you for your card. Right, you are [peron’s name]. It’s nice to meet you.
- Keep the cards on display
The cards you receive should be kept on display throughout the meeting. This is both polite and practical as it helps you remember the names of all the participants. Place their meishi on the table in the order they are sitting. It is also common practice to set it on top of your card holder acting as kind of a ceremonial pillow for their meishi.
Japanese people take great pride in their work and love passing out their business cards. Before I made myself a meishi in my early years as a student, I stood by sadly unprepared as people passed around their information thinking that it was mainly a business practice. The truth is, anyone can and should participate, whether you are an artist, musician, student, etc. Following these basic rules, you can join your friends and colleagues without hesitation in for next meishi koukan.