Shepa Learning Company Blog

Biz Card Exchange Japanese Style

December 9th, 2014 by

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I’ve learned a lot about networking from my times visiting Japan. In Japan the exchanging of business cards is a high art.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have a very good friend, Wilf Wakely, Wakely Law Office and President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan share with us his skills of networking in Japan. Here is Wilf’s excerpt (and expertise) from Work The Pond!


“Business progress in Japan, like anywhere else, is about getting to know new people. For the Japanese, getting to know new people is trickier, given that it’s a vertically oriented society. In Japan, waltzing into someone’s office and saying, ‘Hi, wanna do business?’ is not a route to success. Either someone you know knows someone who will introduce you, or you have to find another way.

The Japanese have a very high level of networking awareness. They hold specific networking events in September and January, typically hosted by the local chamber of commerce or a trade association. These involve a cast of hundreds, a few speeches, then—wham—it’s time to meet folks.

The most essential tool in this process is the business card, or meishi. The meishi identifies the bearer’s company and position. Without these two essentials, it is almost impossible to speak to someone, lest one risk committing an irredeemable faux pas. In ancient times, all of this would have been immediately apparent from the dress (armour), company (retainers with very big swords) and circumstances (you are in his castle). In modern times, where everyone wears the same suit, the meishi has become indispensable.

Guidebooks about Japan jam the shelves of the book shops at most leading hotels in Tokyo, right beside the toothpaste, razors and dental floss. Many of the guidebook writers, wanting to leave nothing to doubt, have adopted a scientific approach to the fine art of proffering business cards—something like, ‘Receive the meishi with a hand on each side while bending forward from the waist approximately forty degrees; carefully examine the card before placing it in your meishi folder. Reaching into your pile and again, with both hands, offer your own to your opposite party, making sure that you proffer the card right side up so the receiver can read it.’ Try that with a plate of sushi and a tiny cup of hot sake in your hands.

Here is what I think—and I have gone through this hundreds of times. Don’t get hung up on the science of passing out meishi. Remember only this: The other guy’s meishi represents him and his company. Don’t snatch it out of his hand and drop it in your side pocket. Look at it; say something admiring—be nice. When you hand your own out, remember that it too represents your company and how you fit in it. Don’t spray them about the room, as my friend, Darcy, has been known to do. You are not feeding geese.”

– Wilf Wakley, Wakely Foreign Law Office, Tokyo


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