The Secret Handshake: Presenting Business Cards in Japan


January 22, 2015
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Editor’s Note: This post was provided by Kuraray, local sponsor to the special exhibition Samurai: The Way of the Warrior on display now at HMNS.

“Do you have a card?” is a phrase uttered daily in American business. To us, it’s a piece of paper. We take notes on them, stuff them in our pockets and hopefully file them for future easy access.

But, in Japan, business cards are considered extensions of the individual — formal self-introductions that are treated with the utmost respect.

As such, “meishi koukan” (the exchanging of business cards) commands a distinct level of etiquette, complete with its own process:

  • Remove cards from an actual business card case prior to the meeting and place them on top.
  • Beginning with visitors, highest-ranking attendees exchange cards first. This helps the Japanese learn who is in command.
  • Hold card on the top corner with right hand and offer it with the information facing out. Left hand holds the case.
  • Briefly introduce yourself as you present the card, stating your name and company.
  • When other person reciprocates, receive card with your left hand. Carefully read the information. Restate the person’s name and thank them.
  • Display cards received during the meeting, arranging them from left to right in the order of seating (from your point of view). Learn the names of the people you are speaking with and show respect.

Other tips to remember:

  • Never stuff a card into your pocket – it’s considered extremely rude.
  • It is a direct insult to bend, damage or write on the card in front of the owner.
  • Always maintain an ample supply of cards. You may distribute dozens in a larger meeting, and give multiples to the same person.

Despite these rules, every situation will be slightly different and your Japanese counterparts may have another understanding of what is considered protocol. When in doubt, always err on the side of showing respect and politeness.

 Want to learn more about Japanese culture and traditions? Visit HMNS to see Samurai: The Way of the Warrior, on display through September 7, 2015. Local support for this exhibit is provided by Kuraray.

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