Japanese Business Card Customs

http://japan-cc.com/images2/meishiex.gifFree business cards are huge deal in the country of Japan. The tradition name for a Japanese business card is “meishi”. This name is from a history based in calling cards when phones came to japan.  To understand what it means we must break down the word.


This word is the first Kanji character in the word and it is the word for name.


The second Kanji. It is often misunderstood and believed to mean paper, however this isn’t true. The shi syllable in this form means flower thorn, and it also means to poke. It’s use in the Japanese “business card” comes from the history of persons of upper class asians cities, mostly in China, left a calling card in what we would know to be the letterbox of another businessman.  They would poke out the letterbox with their card.

It is very important to understand the Japaneses culture and the methods they hand out cards. The Japanese have a strict and formal method of presenting business cards. The person presenting the card holds it with both hands at the top corners and facing the recipient so that it can be easily read. It is customary that the presenter then tell who he or she is. Then the getter of the card should again use both hands to accept it, ensuring that all the writing is still visible on the card. Leather cases are carried around by many Japanese to hold their business cards – it is considered bad manners to place someone’s business card upon receipt into a back pocket. In general, the business cards of those introduced to somebody will be put at the back of that person’s business card case. Folding over or writing on business cards are also considered insulting.

Other Conventions of the Japanese and their Business Cards

If individuals are exchanging business cards in Japan, it is considered ill-mannered for the junior person in the introduction to extend his or her business card so that it is above the senior person’s card. During table meetings, business cards shouldn’t be filed away in the business card case, but rather placed atop the case on the table until the meeting is complete. The person of highest rank who has presented a business card at such a meeting should have his or her card placed on top of the case, and those of lower rank kept on the table beside the case.

Less Traditional Methods of presenting Business Cards in Japan

Most of the Japanese youth often don’t adhere to the strict conventions of business card exchange in Japan. Frequently, for example, they will pass a card to a new acquaintance with just one hand. It is normal for the recipient may also take it in one hand. However, it is still somewhat impolite for the recipient not to give the business card the attention that the presenter might expect. The recipient will “formalize” the receipt of the card by taking it in both corners, with both hands, and perusing it closely before filing it away.

There are many other traditions concerning Japanese meishi. It is remarkable to consider that in a culture that prides itself in being so advanced technologically, there is still a prominent place for free business cards in social exchanges.

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