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Japanese Business Card Etiquette

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In Japan, business cards are a critical part of Japanese business etiquette. Make no mistake; exchanging business cards is standard protocol in corporate Japan. Foreigners traveling overseas to Japan for business should always follow proper Japanese business card etiquette, and make sure that all business cards are translated into Japanese on their reverse side. In any Japanese business setting, exchanging business cards will be the first step of any interaction.

The Japanese view the process of exchanging business cards as something on the same level as shaking someone’s hand in western culture. Not having business cards in the Japanese business place can be interpreted in many different ways, all of which are not positive. Leaving yourself unprepared in the manner can result in your reputation being damaged, and losing “face” with your Japanese host. Generally speaking, not having business cards in Japan is considered to be unprofessional.

The Japanese word for business cards is “Meishi” and this term can describe both one-sided Japanese business cards, as well as two-sided Japanese and English business cards. The term bilingual business cards are also frequently used to describe the type of two-sided business cards that Americans use when traveling to Japan for business.

When obtaining Japanese translated business cards, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost, you should always use a professional Japanese translator. The reason that this is so important is because freelance translators may lack the knowledge of corporate terminology, and their translation may not accurately reflect the information on your business cards. There are many instances where improper Japanese translation work has resulted in smirks and giggles on the part of your Japanese host. These embarrassing situations should be avoided at all costs.

Another important factor to consider when having your business cards translated into Japanese is the quality of the cards themselves. The Japanese are very conscious of business cards, and though they will not scrutinize a plain or poor quality business card, they will surely be impressed by a high quality one. Choose a nice, rich paper stock with a decent weight to it. You should also make sure that a professional graphic designer handles your business card design. Lastly, be absolutely sure that your cards are printed on high quality digital printing machines or offset press printers. Letterpress business cards are the optimal type of business cards if your budget permits it. Remember that the quality of you business cards has a reflection on your image, so it makes sense to invest in quality business cards.

As far as required information that should be on your translated Japanese business cards, the expectation is the same as in western standards. Have your name, company name (if applicable), title, address, and phone number printed on your business cards. An added touch is to have your address translated, even though they will have to refer to your English address. It adds a nice touch.

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Business cards are exchanged at the very beginning of a meeting. Make sure that you have plenty of cards on you at all times as you will be probably be doing a lot of business card exchanging. In and outside of business meetings, the Japanese make good use of business cards. Make sure that you do not leave yourself unprepared by running out of business cards.

The act of presenting your translated Japanese business cards is a very specific task with its own structure. Make sure that the Japanese side is facing up, and do not cover the logo. In Japanese business etiquette, the Japanese place a higher level of importance in the company, than the individual. Use both hands to extend the business cards and bow slightly when you present the business card to its recipient. Use the same form when you receive a card.

After receiving a business card, make sure that you handle it carefully. Do not mark or write on the business card. In Japan, a person’s business card is considered to be a very important document, so you should treat it that way. Also, many people make the mistake of taking a Japanese business card and sticking it in their pocket. This is considered to be informal and borderline disrespectful. A westerner will likely receive more leniency than a Japanese person in this case, but it is still not a good move. Bring a business card holder or possibly a small folder to store any business cards you receive. If you do not have either, you can just use your briefcase. The key is to show some effort that you are conscious that your host’s business cards are valuable.

If you have been presented business cards while sitting at a conference table, you may want to place them in front of you on the table. If possible, arrange the cards in accordance with the positions of the people whom presented them. This will help you remember everyone’s name and is not considered improper.

Investing in high quality business cards to represent yourself and your organization is hands down, one of the best things that you can do when traveling to Japan for business. Always use a trusted supplier with experience in the specific field of business cards translation services. If you prepare yourself the right way, the results will speak for themselves.

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