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Why are "meishi" (business cards) so important in Japan, no matter what one's job is?

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Proper keigo (formal Japanese) requires knowing the status of the person to whom one is speaking. Without a business card that states their company (is it prestigious or not?) and their position in the company (are they an executive?) people are unsure exactly how they should address the person.

Also, they can be lifesavers in a meeting if you forget someone's name/position. Having their card laid out in front of you (which you are supposed to do) is good for easy reference.

And finally, having their card means you are able to contact the person afterwards if need be, since their contact information is on the card.

I was in a meeting with three company members from a company in the US recently, and they had not brought business cards. I realized I'm turning Japanese when this made me uncomfortable because I wasn't sure which of them had seniority in the group!

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Even the janitor at our office has a meishi; not sure what his job title is, though. I guess, in Japan, a business card gives a worker a sense of belonging.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Agree with what is said above, but when you think about it, it basically boils down to insecurity.

I also think many Japanese people love to collect business cards like baseball cards. They arrange them in plastic folders or make digital scans of them. Since everyone is promoted with age and salaries in a company are more or less equal, social connections are another way to measure your own self worth based how many important people you know.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

In short, offer the business card with the Japanese side upwards toward the recipient with both hands to show greater respect. If there are several Japanese, card should be presented according to rank, with the highest ranking individual presenting his or her card last. The Japanese expect you to take time to carefully read and memorize all pertinent information because a business card is considered an extension of the individual and not just a tool to help you find somebody after you met them. In the end the business card serves the important purpose of identifying your position with the corporate hierarchy.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

@Novenachama

That's exactly what all the English guidebooks say but It doesn't always work that way in real life. Japanese people are always writing notes or prices etc on my business cards (which the English books will tell you is the biggest faux pas ever). There is much less formality when you are conducting 'real' business behind the scenes compared to, say a customer buying insurance from a salesman. That distinction and nuance is often lost on westerners reading about Japan.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

Because no one knows how to read names?

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

It's good etiquette in business 20 yrs ago but like most systems today outdated, cards are pointless today.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

It's good etiquette in business 20 yrs ago but like most systems today outdated, cards are pointless today.

Why do you say that? What makes them outdated, and what would be preferable?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Because Japan Inc says so.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Business cards are important in any culture, probably more so in Japan. They're a form of self-introduction. I remember my father telling me a story (in the U.S.) a man told him about his business card. The man, who was a young, hard working and successful owner of a small business, introduced himself to a potential customer he was visiting. He presented the man with his business card which the man then casually tossed into the garbage can next to him while gleefully watching him to check out his reaction. Rather than getting angry, the man calmly explained to him that each business card cost him 25 cents to produce and that in his line of work he couldn't afford to be wasteful. Without missing a beat or getting angry, he reached into the garbage can, plucked his business card out of the garbage can and walked out.

Whether or not a business card means anything to somebody depends on the individual, but they do cost money to make and they should be handled with respect and courtesy, not handled like a piece of junk mail.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Similar story to above,

I'll never forget when I went to an izakaya with 2 Japanese friends. We all worked at the same place but those 2 didn't really know each other. One of the guys gave out his meishi to the both of us from his side business. I put the card in my wallet as I think I am supposed to. The other guy just put it on the table in front of him. After about a half an hour into drinking, the other guy unconsciously picked up the meishi and started tapping it on the table while talking to us. The friend who gave the meishi got infuriated, grabbed the card back and yelled it him for being disrespectful to him and the Japanese culture. Funny that he was yelling at a Japanese person about Japanese culture. So we all sat there for 15-20 minutes after that in silence. Finally the guy who gave the meishi called it a night and thanked me for inviting him and he left. What a huge relief that was and let's just say I didn't really hang out or even talk with him after that.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I run my own small business and I give out 1 business card to each customer, it has my tell number the companies name, and my name. what I find irritating is 90% of people say "cheers mate", they shove them in there back pockets, then ask whats my name?, read the card dumb ass ( I think) Ive even had one rude customer pick plaque out of her teeth whilst I was giving her a quote with a card!!! how would this go down in Japan? I use the same technics they use in Japan IE when Iam presented with one I will ask that person questions all about him so I can get to know him or her, Its a shame more british people don't understand the Japanese business culture

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yes Brian I have had the same experience with people misusing my card. It is highly offensive.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I must an aberration but I have never had, or thought about acquiring, my own meishi in all my years in Japan. And I have never actively attempted to contact anybody whose meishi I had received. I guess I've been here so long that I've kind of bypassed the need to seek out strangers for anything.

I do get handed a few meishi, but I feel annoyed when they are printed on cheap and flimsy paper, or feature incorrect English (you'd be surprised how common these things are). I mean, if the meishi is supposedly an extension of the self, then for goodness' sake get it done professionally!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I must an aberration but I have never had, or thought about acquiring, my own meishi in all my years in Japan. And I have never actively attempted to contact anybody whose meishi I had received.

It depends on the industry. For English teachers (not sure if you are one), stories like yours are likely pretty standard. But if you are in business, regularly meeting people from other companies for meetings, having a business card is imperative, and pretty much everyone will use cards they've received to send follow up thank you mails or whatnot.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Agree with what is said above, but when you think about it, it basically boils down to insecurity.

M3M3M3 -- I'm not sure "insecurity" is the right word. I would say it is more due to the fact that a person's company affiliation is, in most cases, the defining element as to who, and what, they are as a person. In most western cultures there is a distiction between who you are (your title) , and what you are -- because people have lives outside of work that really define what they are as a person. Their religious and political beliefs. Their role as a parent. Their involvement with charities. Their hobbies. Etc. But, in Japan, especially for salarymen, there is little of these outside influences that define them. It is all about work.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

To each his/her own.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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