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Ultimate Guide to Japanese Business Cards

Exchanging Japanese Business cards is a significant part of Japan’s work culture. If you meet a Japanese person, even casually, chances are they’ll give you their business card when you first meet. This simple gesture is a big deal – in Japan, you are unlikely to make a solid first impression unless an individual has his business card also known as ‘meishi koukan’. This article will tell you what you need to know about Japanese business cards and to aid all those business people who are new in Japan for business. 

Continue reading this article to grasp everything about Japanese business cards and to avoid making a cultural blunder when doing card exchange.

What Are Japanese Business Cards and Why Is This Ritual Important?

Japan is a country of rituals, respect, and etiquette. Whenever Japanese businessmen meet for the first time, they present or exchange their cards with others. Japanese Business Card exchange is a practice vital to perform in business, despite the prevalence of remote work and digitalization. These cards give your formal introduction to others before the start of the meeting. It is still a big deal in Japan to exchange these cards to paramount your relationships with others. 

According to Dr. Deborah Swallow, if you don’t have a business card in Japan, it means you are of no consequence or you do not exist.

a japanese woman sharing a business card

Why Do We Exchange Japanese Business Cards?

The exchange of Japanese business cards is the basic social ritual in a nation where rituals matter a lot. If you do not know about Meishi, you do not know much about Japan. If you respect this ritual and exchange business cards in Japan, it implies you value their business and relationships and will be respectful towards their business deals as well.

This card contains information about you, your business, contact, address, website address, and email. The exchange of the cards will provide information about you and your business to other business partners. Therefore, it will be easier for other businessmen to contact you later with the help of business cards. 

Takashi Nakano of the Japan Business Card Association explains that the origin of Japanese business cards, or meishi, is unclear. One theory traces its roots to 15th-century China, where people used bamboo cards as calling cards. Another suggests their introduction to Japan was influenced by Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s delegation, who carried similar cards during their 1853 arrival in Tokyo Bay.

What Are the Functions Of These Japanese Business Cards?

Before conducting business practices in Japan, it is advisable to follow Japanese business rituals and practices for more effective communication. For new businessmen, Japanese business cards are quite helpful because of the information contained in them.

General Information included:

Usually, a Japanese business card includes information about the owner’s full name, company name, position, department, and means of contact such as phone number, email address, company’s email address, and postal address. Business cards convey significant information about the rank and title of an individual.

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Functions of Japanese Business Cards

  1. Brand Identity: Business cards reflect a company’s image through design elements like font, color, and paper quality.
  2. Passing Information: They provide a quick and easy way to share contact details, useful for networking and referrals. In Japan, traditional business cards are also preferred over digital information exchange, especially for those less tech-savvy.
  3. Essential in Trade: Exchanging business cards is crucial in international business, showing respect for cultural values.
  4. Professionalism and Preparedness: A business card in Japan signifies respect for local culture and readiness for professional relationships.

How To Exchange Japanese Business Cards?

Business cards have a cultural and symbolic value attached to them. There are certain steps involved in the exchange that should be followed strictly without any deviations. Following this process will ensure a base for successful international business ventures. The process has the following steps:

  1. Be prepared: Before attending a meeting in Japan, always be aware of the number of people attending the meeting. Ensure you have enough business cards for meetings. If you find that you are running short on cards, be honest and admit your mistake.
  2. Have your cards ready: Always make sure that you store your cards in an easily accessible space, such as a business card case. This will prevent any damage to the business cards. It can also be easily presented immediately if you properly store your cards. Avoid keeping it in your wallet.
  3. Present your card with a bow and introduce yourself: Hold your card by the top corner so that it does not cover any logos and names. Always offer your business card with your right hand. Don’t forget to bow while presenting your business card and remember to use the Japanese phrase ‘Hajime-mashite’ which means nice to meet you and your name in Japanese while introducing yourself to another person.
  4. Accept another person’s card: When it’s your turn to receive a card from another person, accept it with both hands. Hold the card at a low position, no higher than your chest. Don’t forget to thank them for the card. 
  5. Examine the card: Now read the card carefully and make yourself familiar with everything that is printed on the card, most significantly the presenter’s name. Practice saying their name and if you do not know how to pronounce their name, you can ask them. 
  6. Finish up the process: Continue this practice until you have everyone’s cards and they have yours. Arrange the cards on the table as you receive them accordingly, it will help you to keep track of whom to address, and how to address according to their respective rank.

Please take note of how to simultaneously give and receive a business card simultaneously in the video.

What Are the Key Etiquettes of Exchanging Japanese Business Cards?

In Japan, you can lose credibility if you are ignoring certain key etiquettes of exchanging Japanese business cards. Knowing etiquette before exchanging business cards can prevent you from embarrassing situations and can make a positive impression on potential future business partners or clients that you understand the culture and are therefore reliable. You need to follow a hierarchical order during the exchange. 

man showing his Japanese business card

10 Important Things to Consider Before Exchanging Japanese Business Cards

  1. Always bear in mind that do not flick, throw, slide, or push the business card across the table to Japanese businessmen. 
  2. Always stand up before making an exchange.
  3. Don’t hand out a dirty, wrinkled, and folded card.
  4. Never bend, fold, play with, or fidget with a business card.
  5. After receiving the card, treat it with utmost respect and put it in a card case.
  6. Never write notes or anything on the business card.
  7. Follow the hierarchical order to exchange cards.
  8. Never put another person’s business card in your pocket after receiving it. 
  9. Always carefully pick up all the Japanese business cards received at meetings. Forgetting someone’s business card is considered extremely disrespectful or a slap on the face. Therefore always bring all business cards received at meetings.
  10. It is not mandatory to use Japanese phrases in the first meeting if the other person is not speaking in Japanese. 

Which Language Must be Preferred to Print Business Cards

In Japan, double-sided business cards should be used. Both English and Japanese language must be included in the card.

How to deal with mistakes that can be made by you while exchanging Japanese business cards

Do not hesitate to admit your mistake if you have done something wrong. In a business setting, it is considered wise to be mindful of your mistakes and apologize.

If you forget to bring business cards or run low with the cards then confront this to another person. 

If you do not know how to pronounce something in Japanese you can ask them instead of making mistakes.

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Are Digital Business Cards Exchanged in Japan?

Digital business cards, also known as virtual business cards, are an online means of introducing oneself to another. One can create digital cards in an instant on phones and computers. Like normal business cards, these can be customized and designed accordingly. Space on cards should be utilized effectively as there is no constraint. These digital cards provide an opportunity to make it more interactive by adding more features such as photos, videos, and animation. According to Mel Chiri, several benefits are associated with the usage of digital business cards.

Merits of Digital Japanese Business Cards

  1. Digital Japanese business cards are eco-friendly: Using digital cards has reduced paper usage and saves the cutting of trees, which is better for the environment.
  2. Convenient: Digital business cards are easily accessible as long as you have your digital device with you. If needed, you can easily modify the information on it. Whereas typical business cards involve the high costs of making changes. 
  3. Affordable: Digital Japanese business cards are more affordable than their paper counterparts. You do not need to allocate a budget for the whole year for paper-based business cards. Instead, you can make it at minimum cost or even at no cost online. 
  4. Lead to seamless follow-ups: When a digital card is exchanged, it does not get lost in the oblivion of old receipts, gum wrappers, and documents. It directly goes to the receiver’s inbox and can be easily integrated by you and another person.
  5. Digital cards are contactless: These cards can be shared anytime with anyone. It can be shared via email, text, or social media. During Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet video calls, you can share the QR code or URL. You can scan the card with your smartphone. After uploading the data online, you can easily search for the right contact by industry, position, etc.

Demerits of Digital Japanese Business Cards

  1. Lack of personal touch: Digital channels have eased life to a large extent. But is it personal? The answer is no. Exchanging digital cards means that you cannot establish a personal relationship with another person as it does not involve any conversation, handshake, or gestures. In brief, an effective interaction cannot be achieved through this means of exchanging cards.
  2. Seldom remains unread: One cannot be sure about the actual reading of cards. Digital cards are likely to be buried in inboxes and remain unread. Without reading cards, how can someone be assured of the relationship?
  3. You lose out on people sharing your business card with someone else

How do you get your digital business card ready?

Making a digital card is quite convenient and easy and can be made in an instant. For this, you just need to download any digital business card application on your digital device. Once you have the application you are all set to make your first virtual card. For example, HiHello is an application with which you can create your digital business card by just creating an account on this website. Once you have your card ready you can make any changes and additions if required.

In Japan, you can visit San San to have your card ready. Sansan: Centralized Business Card-based Contact Management 

How to exchange digital business cards in Japanese culture

When an individual cannot exchange business cards in person then digital business cards are a solution to this. If you are having an online meeting, there are still some ways to exchange business cards. Firstly, you need to consult with the persons who are attending the meeting to choose an appropriate way to give and receive business cards. You can exchange cards either by mail, by sending pictures, or by sending links. Following are the ways by which digital business cards can be exchanged

  1. Share your business card using a QR code and make sure to use a reputable QR service. Otherwise, your QR code might expire after some time.
  2. By sending a text or email.
  3. By sending the link to your business card.
  4. By using iOS or Android features.
  5. By sharing through NFC. (Near-field communication). However, not all phones are NFC-compatible.

For a deeper understanding of how things work in the Japanese workplace, check out our podcast on Japanese business culture with Rochelle Kopp!

Does the Design of Japanese Business Cards Impact the Interaction Between People?

Designing a business card is crucial, especially in Japan where they carry significant cultural importance. Professional design services can be found on platforms like Lancers, Coconala, or Fiverr, offering a range of designers and price options. 

Consider a business card-pamphlet combo from sites like B-Mall. Ensure the design is legible and contains all essential information like your company name, logo, contact details, and social media links. The standard size for Japanese business cards is 91mm x 55mm, but you can choose a size that fits business card holders.

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Where Can Cards Be Printed in Japan If You Are New to the Country?

If you are new to Japan, there are English-speaking business card printing services available to help you create business cards. For example, Mojo Print and Design Meishi are two places offering business cards with effective designs. These places design business cards that are stylish yet very professional to impress your clients and other professionals at competitive prices.

You can print large quantities and quick turnaround times that help you to get out of a troublesome situation of shortage of business cards. Moreover, Design Meishi provides an express service that makes your card in a few hours. Apart from these, there are numerous other places from where you can get your card ready.

Cheap Business Cards in Japan

Mojo

Mojo offers an English website and their printing is quite cheap, especially compared to the traditional printing companies in Japan. 

Printpac

One other cheaper option with no English language is Printpac. They have a range of pricing for each item when you need it. Therefore, the pricing depends upon the time you are giving it to print.

Premium Business Cards in Japan

Monkey Print

Monkeyprint.jp is a Japanese printing service offering print and design work and help across Japan including Okinawa, Tokyo, Osaka, and more. It uniquely offers free delivery all over Japan. Its 250g matte laminated business cards are the most popular product.

What is the Future of Japanese Business Cards?

As of 2024, Japanese business cards have evolved to incorporate digital elements like QR codes and NFC chips while emphasizing eco-friendliness with sustainable materials. The design trend is shifting towards minimalism and personal branding, reflecting individual styles and professional identities. Bilingual cards are gaining popularity to facilitate cross-cultural business interactions.

Despite these advancements, traditional etiquette and formality remain central to the Japanese business culture, ensuring a balance between innovation and tradition in business networking.

Final Thoughts 

Overall, Japanese Business Cards, also known as “Meishi koukan,” stands as a timeless cornerstone of Japanese business culture. Arriving unprepared without these cards can hinder effective communication with Japanese professionals.

If you’re embarking on your inaugural journey to Japan, acquainting yourself with the nuances of business card exchange is a must. Don’t fret – ensure a seamless experience by familiarizing yourself with the recommended practices. Additionally, when in Japan, consider the suggested locales for printing your cards, allowing you to integrate seamlessly into this vital custom.

If you’re stepping into the realm of Japanese business, it’s crucial to immerse yourself in its culture. You can check our Guide to Business Networking in Japan if you’re looking for chances to exchange business cards.

Lastly, to navigate with confidence, explore resources like these articles: Japanese Corporate Culture and Japanese Business Etiquette. They’ll serve as valuable guides as you embark on your business journey in Japan.

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