Let's say you are being introduced to a fellow businessman who you have never met and don't know the slightest thing about. What is the fastest way to find out what you need to know? Exchange business cards, that's how.
The Japanese businessmen carry what is called meishi, their business card. On that card will be the name of the organization you work for, your own name and the address of the organization. That type of information helps establish rank and will influence how one person will treat the other. If you are someone working for an important company, for example, whether or not you hold a major position isn't that terribly important. Working for an almost unknown company, though, even if you are vice-president doesn't carry as much weight.
The cards are so important that there is a definite procedure in exchanging them. You hand the card to the other person so that they can read it; in other words, it's upside down to you. You accept their card and look at it. Then you put the card away in your special container.
You don't write on the card and you definitely don't put the card casually down, nor do you bring out a bunch of cards and put this one in like it was another card in a deck of playing cards.
The origin of the cards is a little unusual. They were introduced from China, which is not unusual, but they were first used by eunuchs in the Imperial Court.
It is a good idea, if possible, to have the cards printed both in English and in Japanese if you are an American (or other English-speaking person) and you are going to go to Japan.
"The ritual exchange of business cards...reinforces the identification with company culture. The cards are exchanged on meeting, examined carefully and respectfully to ascertain the role and status of each person, and then arrayed on the meeting table as reference."Kimono in the Boardroom: The Invisible Evolution of Japanese Women Managers, 1999
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