Theory and Practice
Business Cards in Japan

If you ever are doing business in Japan, you will hear about business cards and the rules associated with them. Understanding the Japanese culture will allow people to have a better image of you instead of being known as a gaijin (foreigner) who wants to do business in Japan. This demonstrates that you value Japanese culture and not only the Japanese market.

The exchange of business cards (meishi koukan 名刺交換) is an essential element since a real business relationship cannot be built without it. But too many rules seem to exist: are they truly followed by businessmen? 

Check out this article if you want to learn how to make the perfect Japanese business card.

Business Cards Rules 名刺のルール (meishi no ruuru)

and Business Meeting rules

Here are things that Japanese and foreigners are told to do and not do concerning business cards:
  • Come prepared with business cards so you can hand them out to every person present in a meeting.
    • It can be considered rude if you are unable to hand out the cards to everyone
  • Have the cards up-to-date with your current title and design
    • Many Japanese business people have cards that are printed years ago, however, it is better to update them 
    • Be sure they are not dirty if they are kept in your wallet for a long time or have new ones with you
  • When handing out your business card, have the correct language facing up toward the person
  • When you hand them out, make sure both parties are standing, do not immediately sit down and have nothing between you and the other person. 
    • Standing* or “being on the same level” shows a sign of respect and can be rude if you don’t stand up
    • *Does not apply if one person has a disability, of course
  • The person with the highest status hands their card out first
    • It is a mistake to hand out your card at the same time or if the person with the lowest status starts first.
    • To know a person’s status, see who enters the room (the higher the status, the later the entry) and where people sit (the boss sits in the back)
  • During the business card exchange, have your card a bit lower than the other person with both hands
  • Introduce yourself and your company
    • (はじめまして。X の Y と申します)
      Hajimemashite. X no Y to moushimasu.) 
    • ‘Hello, my name is X from Y Corporation. Nice to meet you.’ 
    • If a colleague or your boss already introduced it, saying it again will make people remember your company name better.
  • Do not immediately put away their business card after you have received it
    • consider it a moment
    • Thank the person with: choudai itashimasu 頂戴いたします.
  • Make a short comment
    • (like ‘Oh, I see you are working at/as… / Oh, you like [insert a comment on the picture…]’ or repeat the name of the person, for example). 
    • Usually, the visitor speaks first, but it depends on the host.
  • Do not fold it and do not put it away! 
    • If sitting, have the business card on the table and listen to what the person is saying
  • Do not write on the business card
    • Instead, use a separate notebook to write down anything 
    • Everything you need should have already been written on the card by the owner, it would be rude to add something else

Useful Phrases & Information

  • If you hand your card out late:
    • moushi okuremashita 申し遅れました
    • osakini itadaite moushiwakegozaimasen お先に頂いて申し訳ございません
  • If you have forgotten your cards
    • moushiwakegozaimasen. Tadaima, meishi wo kirashiteorimashite「申し訳ございません。ただいま、名刺を切らしておりまして。
  • If you are with your boss and meet someone else: 
    • let your boss start the business exchange. 
    • Stand up behind your boss, diagonally, and wait while holding your card.

Business Cards in Practice

These business card rules can be stranger or useless, however, it is your entry into the Japanese business world. Even if you don’t see the point in these rules, this is still essential for your business. 

It will be difficult to build a network in Japan without a good business card. Therefore, it is important to have these cards make a good impression. Even Japanese people find this strange before their first professional experience. When they realize how important these business cards, are when they need them.

Of course, not everyone follows these rulesAmy Chavez shared her experience with Japan Times as she was surprised to see how often Japanese businessmen break the rules.

She had difficulties following them sometimes. For example, she saw ‘Organ donor’ as the person’s title or how some modern business cards look sometimes more like advertisements than professional and personal cards. 

One of the rules she thought was unbreakable was the ‘do not write on the business card,’ which was challenged when she noticed a ‘memo’ section at the bottom of a card.

Also, when she was at a TV station, she saw a cameraman did not have a business card while staff and directors did. The reason was that the cameramen were not concerned about business communication, so they did not need cards.

Example Video

While this video is old, it effectively demonstrates Business Card Exchange in Japan on YouTube.