The Art of Exchanging Business Cards in Japan


Manners are everything in Japan, even for a simple gesture like exchanging business cards! In fact, many companies hold business card training sessions for new employees to ensure they won’t embarrass the company. If you’re considering working in Japan, this article will teach you the must-know insider tips and tricks surrounding Japanese business card etiquette. With this information in tow, you’ll be sure to impress future clients and coworkers and continue climbing the ladder to success!

Japanese Business Card Etiquette


◆Timing the Exchange

Business cards are supposed to be exchanged when you first meet and greet. Before heading out for any meeting, double check you have plenty of cards along with a specialized card case and are mentally prepared for the process.

◆Who Should Go First?

Normally, the visitor or the payee should initiate the exchange. However, if the visitor is of a higher position, it may become the other way around, so it all depends on the situation. If the higher ranking individual ends up handing out their business card first, respond with “moushi okuremashita” (I’m late) to leave a good impression.

*In the Japanese workplace, the payer is of a higher standing than the payee, regardless of the person’s social status and age.

◆Order of Exchange With Multiple People

When in a larger group, the exchange should start with the most senior member of the host party exchanging cards with the most senior member of the visitors party. This will then continue in descending order of seniority.

For example:
Host Party: Myself, manager, senior manager
Visitors Party: Person in charge, supervisor

The order of exchange should be:

Senior manager ←→ Supervisor
Senior manager ←→ Person in charge
Manager ←→ Supervisor
Manager ←→ Person in charge
Myself ←→ Supervisor
Myself ←→ Person in charge

Rules of Exchange

  • Even if you’re already seated, you must stand up for the exchange of business cards, and don’t hand your card over the table.
  • Place the necessary number of cards on your case and hold each side of the card with both hands without covering the company logo/name.
  • Ensure the card faces the recipient (ie. the writing is the correct way for them to read).
  • During the exchange, your hands should be in front of your chest and your card slightly below your counterpart’s to show respect. State your company, department, and name, with the closing phrase “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (a pleasure to meet you).
  • Take your counterpart’s card with your left hand while being careful not to block their company logo and name. As you take it, say “choudai itashimasu” (received with thanks).
  • After receiving the card, study the name and information closely. If you can’t read the name, try to ask politely how it’s read, for example: “suteki na onamae desune. Nanto oyomisureba yoroshii deshouka?” (you have a wonderful name! How do you pronounce it, if you don’t mind me asking?).

◆How to Arrange the Business Cards

  • If you’re exchanging business cards with only one person, place their business card on top of your card case (as shown below). Do not place it directly on the table.
  • If you are exchanging business cards with more than one person, place the card of the highest ranking person on your card case and the rest on the table.
  • If there are many people present, there’s no need to place their cards on your card case. Instead, line them up on the table in order of seating arrangement (as shown below).
  • If there is only a little space on the table, you may put the cards inside your card case.

Things To Avoid

  • Touching your counterpart’s company logo when you receive their card
  • Pulling out a card directly from your pocket or wallet without a card case
  • Handing out a folded, wrinkled, or dirty card
  • Fiddling with your counterpart’s card as you talk
  • Using the back of others’ cards to take notes
  • Forgetting to take cards home
  • Exchanging cards over the table

Managing the Business Cards You Receive


Business cards are valuable resources carrying important contact information like names, companies, and departments. For a smooth and productive future business relationship, we recommend cataloging them after the exchange.

Despite the above, it is actually not uncommon for people to jot notes on the backs of cards for future reference, such as the date of exchange or the person’s characteristics. Of course, it’s extremely rude to do this in front of the person, so save this for later! Some companies also have a business card database, so don’t forget to enter the information in here too.

Furthermore, unwanted business cards shouldn’t be thrown away directly as they contain personal information. Instead, take the time to use a shredder.

How to Manage Awkward Situations


◆Forgetting Your Business Cards or Not Bringing Enough

If you’ve forgotten your business cards or don’t have enough, never say “meishi wo wasuremashita” (I forgot my business cards) or “meishi ga arimasen” (I don’t have business cards). Instead, you should apologize with “moushiwake gozaimasen, tadaima meishi wo kirashite orimashite…” (I’m terribly sorry, I’ve run out of business cards…), followed by a clear report of your company, department, and name.

Depending on the situation, you can present your business card the next time you meet, or email it together with a brief introduction and apology after returning to the office to ensure a good impression.

◆Missing the Exchange

If you missed the exchange due to circumstances like arriving later than your colleagues, wait until the conversation ends and say, “osoreirimasu ga, omeishi wo ichimai itadakenai deshouka?” (pardon me, may I have your business card?). This is perfectly acceptable in the Japanese business world.

You may be questioning the point of all these complexities. Rather than rules, think of them as guidelines to avoid offending the other party while showing respect. If you plan to do business in Japan, remembering these gestures is an important first step in building trusted business relationships and to grow your career!

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.