An introduction to Japanese business culture I. – Meishi Koukan

In this new series of articles, we will explain some of the finer details of the Japanese business culture. We hope that you may find these articles useful, and they will prove to be an asset, that can help you avoid uncomfortable situations that stem from cultural differences. Our first article is about the Meishi Koukan (名刺交換), the Japanese way of giving and receiving business cards.

If you have a meeting with Japanese businessmen, be sure to prepare beforehand!  Ensure that you have business cards on your person.  If you do not have any with you, it may not only imply that you are unprepared, but it also means that your business partners have no easy way of contacting you. They may also misunderstand this, as you do not want to give them the ability to contact you, this is the equivalent of refusing to shake someone’s hand! Business cards have a surprisingly detailed etiquette, so try your best to adhere to it! Think of the card as an extension of the person, treat it with the utmost respect. Take care not to soil it, bend it, and avoid giving a dog-eared card to your partner. If you want to be truly prepared, have a bilingual card, with one side in your native language, the other side in Japanese.

Be sure to have a card holder, if you simply store the cards in your pocket, and just shove in the received cards in your pocket, or wallet, that could be seen as rude. With a holder, you can also avoid damaging any of the cards. If you know how many people you will meet, prepare enough cards in advance. Place them on top of your holder, and hand it over to your business partner.

The trading of the cards has its own rules. The highest-ranking member begins the introduction. Hold the card with both hands, and make sure that they are facing the receiving person. While handing it over, also bow a little, and give a brief introduction. Be sure to state the company you work for, your name, and job position. Pay attention to not obstruct any logos or the text of the card with your fingers. When you receive a card, also take it with both hands! Look at it carefully, and give some sort of feedback that you’ve read it.

Following the introductions, the meeting will begin. It is important that you keep the new cards on the table, do not put them away immediately. If you can, try to arrange them on top of your holder, while keeping the seating order in mind, this will show that you are trying to learn everyone’s name. Do not write on any of the cards, unless the other party gives his or her permission first. It’s rude if you just write on it without asking first.

It may seem rude to us westerners when a Japanese person does not automatically offer his or her hand in a handshake. This is not because they are rude, the Japanese custom when meeting someone new is to bow. However, if they offer it first, do not hesitate! The bowing has its own rules as well, the lower ranking party bows deeper, thus showing respect to the higher-ranking person.

We hope that you found this article helpful!

If you would like a bilingual business or would like more information about the Japanese business culture and etiquette, contact us!

Written by: B. Kovács