What To Avoid When Exchanging Business Card 名刺 (Meishi) In Japan

When engaging in business in Japan, the exchange of business cards, or “名刺 (meishi),” is a critical element of professional etiquette that carries deep cultural significance. This ceremonial exchange is more than a mere transfer of contact information; it’s a formal gesture of mutual respect and the first step in building a professional relationship. To navigate this ritual without offending your Japanese counterparts, it’s essential to be aware of the not-to-do aspects associated with 名刺 (meishi). Here’s a guide to help you understand these cultural nuances and ensure a respectful and positive first impression.

1. Don’t Treat Meishi Casually

In Japan, business cards are treated with the utmost respect. Therefore, avoid handling meishi casually or disrespectfully. This means you should not:

  • Bend or Fold the Card: Keep it in pristine condition.
  • Write on the Card: Unless directed, writing on someone’s business card in their presence is considered disrespectful.
  • Flick or Toss the Card: Hand it over gently and respectfully.

2. Avoid One-Handed Exchange

The correct way to give or receive a business card is with both hands. This shows that you are giving the exchange your full attention and respect. Using one hand can be seen as dismissive or disrespectful.

To complement the guidance on what not to do during a 名刺 (meishi) exchange, let’s explore examples of positive actions and phrases that can be used to demonstrate respect and understanding of Japanese business etiquette. These examples will include how to properly exchange business cards using both hands and the appropriate phrases to accompany the exchange.

Positive Actions and Phrases for 名刺 (Meishi) Exchange

How to Exchange Business Cards Properly:

1. Prepare Your Meishi in Advance: Before the meeting, ensure your meishi are in a cardholder and accessible. This shows organization and respect for the person you are meeting.

2. Present Your Card with Both Hands: Hold your meishi so that it faces the recipient, allowing them to read it easily. Extend it towards them with both hands, typically with the thumb and forefinger of each hand at opposite corners of the card.

3. Introduce Yourself: As you present your card, offer a brief introduction. Here’s how you might phrase it:

  • Example : どうぞ宜しくお願い致します。[Your Name] と申します、[Your Company Name] の [Your Position]です。Dōzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. [Your Name] to mōshimasu, [Your Company Name] no [Your Position] desu. – Please let me ask for your kind cooperation. My name is [Your Name], [Your Position] at [Your Company].

4. Receiving a Meishi: When someone offers you their meishi, receive it with both hands. It is polite to express your gratitude and acknowledge the receipt:

  • Example: ありがとうございます,頂戴致しますArigatōgozaimasu, chōdai itashimasu. Thank you, I gratefully received it.

5. Review the Meishi: After receiving it, take a moment to look at the card carefully. Show interest and respect for the information provided.

6. Properly Store the Meishi: After examining the meishi, place it in your cardholder or a respectful location, not in your pants pocket or anywhere informal.

These steps and phrases demonstrate a deep respect for the individual and their professional status, a key aspect of Japanese business culture. Adhering to this protocol not only facilitates smoother business interactions but also helps in building strong, respectful professional relationships.

3. Don’t Ignore or Place the Card Away Immediately

After receiving a meishi, take a moment to carefully read it and acknowledge the person’s title and affiliation. It’s a sign of disrespect to immediately put the card away in your pocket or bag without giving it due attention.

4. Never Place Cards in Your Back Pocket

Storing a business card in your back pocket is a major faux pas, as sitting on a card is seen as sitting on the person’s face and reputation. Use a business card holder to store received cards.

 5. Avoid Initiating Business Talk Right Away

The meishi exchange is a ritual of introduction and respect, not an immediate segue into business discussions. Allow for some time to appreciate the exchange and establish a rapport before diving into business matters.

6. Don’t Fail to Offer Your Own Card

Not reciprocating the gesture of exchanging business cards is considered rude. Always have your meishi ready to offer in return, showing that you value the relationship and the exchange.

7. Do Not Disregard Hierarchical Order

When in a meeting with multiple people, pay attention to the hierarchical structure. Cards should be exchanged with the highest-ranking person first as a sign of respect for the organization’s structure.

   Scenario: Meeting with a Japanese Company

Example Dialogue in Japanese:

  • To the CEO: お会いできて光栄です、[CEO’s Name] さん。私の名前は [Your Name] です、[Your Company] のものです。このような機会をいただき、ありがとうございます。Oaidekite kōei desu, [CEO’s Name]-san. Watashi no namae wa [Your Name] desu, [Your Company] no mono desu. Kono yōna kikai o itadaki, arigatōgozaimasu. – It’s an honor to meet you, [CEO’s Name]-san. My name is [Your Name], from [Your Company]. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss our potential collaboration.
  • While Receiving CEO’s 名刺 (meishi): ありがとうございます。頂戴いたします。御社について学びつつ、お互いどのような協力ができるのかを探っていきたいと思っております。Arigatōgozaimasu. Chōdai itashimasu. Onsha ni tsuite manabitsutsu, otagaido no yōna kyōryoku ga dekiru no ka o sagutte ikitai to omotte orimasu. – Thank you. We will be happy to receive it. I look forward to learning more about your company and exploring how we can cooperate.

8. Don’t Forget to Prepare Sufficient Cards

Running out of business cards can be seen as unprofessional or unprepared. To avoid this situation, ensure you have an ample supply of cards.

By avoiding these not-to-do actions, you demonstrate your respect for Japanese cultural practices and show that you value your professional relationships in Japan. Understanding and adhering to these etiquette rules can significantly impact the success of your business interactions in Japan, paving the way for more fruitful and respectful engagements.

Are there any design guidelines for creating a 名刺 (Meishi)?

Meishi should be professional and clean in design, and it should include essential information like your name, position, company, and contact details. Some people choose to have one side of their meishi in Japanese and the other in their native language.

Can I refuse to accept a 名刺 (meishi)?

Refusing to accept a meishi can be seen as a sign of disrespect. If you are offered a meishi, it is polite to accept it, even if you do not plan to establish a business relationship.

Is it appropriate to exchange meishi outside of business meetings?

While meishi are most commonly exchanged in business settings, they can also be exchanged in more casual professional settings, such as networking events or conferences, to share contact information and make a formal introduction.

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