“Business Etiquette in Japan”, is definitely one of the things I have been wanting to write about for a long time. I remember my first year working here. “Mess” is probably the best word to describe the way I was. Every time I recall how I was and the things I used to do back then, I can not help but to see my self as the “savage” who came to a civilized world and learn how to behave and be a “lady”. I am not lying to say that one of my superiors had to buy me a book titled “Business Etiquette for Women” and told me I must read it over the weekend. You get the picture on how raw I was.
The first three years were tough. Although I was partly raised in the Japanese culture, I did not really know anything about working with Japanese people, and a big part of me refused to even learn the language correctly. It is too difficult and it takes too much effort to learn I used to say, so making excuses seemed like an easier way out from learning something I was scared of a bit.
After five years, I am still learning the language and how to behave in business situations. However, it is getting way easier to do, and despite of my stubbornness, very enjoyable.
This subject is too wide to cover in just one post, so, let me start sharing with you one of the most basic things you have to know if you are planning to come here and do business one day. That is…
Make them right away and do not ever forget them. Having your own business cards here and knowing how to treat them correctly, is the most basic but important thing you must know. I remember I used to have business cards back when I was in Costa Rica, but I have never used or treated them the way I currently do. Here are some things you must remember.
Have double-sided business cards printed with Japanese on one side and English on the other, making sure it says the same thing on both sides. Just in case, let me write down the information that should be there.
- Company Logo
- Company Name
- Your position
- Your name
- Your address
- Telephone and Fax Number
- E-mail address
- Home page URL
- Slogan/Company Mission, Vision and Values (This helps to give a good impression and makes it easier for people to remember your company).
- Your picture or drawing of yourself (Many people use this technique in Japan, so people can remember who you are)
- Search in advance how many people are attending the meeting and carry twice the number you expect to give away. (Just in case. You never know…)
- Never write notes on the Business Cards that were given to you. Again. It is all about respect.
- Hand it over to the person with respect. Flicking, lobbing, sliding or even pushing your business card across the table will be interpreted as a lack of respect towards the other person. Hand it over as if you were placing your trust on the other person. Remember, mutual respect is showing trust to each other and both are opening a door to a healthy business relationship from the beginning.
- Keep your business cards in a proper carrying case. Do not take them out directly from your breast pocket. Japanese people treat things with respect, and every thing has to have its place. As stiff as it might sound, it gives you order in life and where there is order, there is less trouble or unnecessary effort.
- Do not play with it. Even though the first meeting might make you feel anxious and fidgety, playing with the other person’s card is a definite no no.
- When you sit, put the business cards on the opposite side of your dominant hand, just on the level of your non-dominant hand. Line them up in the same order the respected parties are sitting, placing the most senior (or important) member’s business card on your card case, and the rest on the table (Note: putting the business cards on the opposite side of your dominant hand, prevents you from dropping them by accident).
- Remember to carefully pick up all the business cards on the table after the meeting. Do not forget any, as this would mean you did not consider the person as relevant.
The ritual of exchanging Business Cards
First exchange cards with the the most important person of the opposite party. Remember to take out from the carrying case the number you will need in advance, and put them under your card case. Also, place your hands on the chest height.
Before exchanging the business cards, place one on the card case you are holding with your left hand, and with your right hand take the card from the left upper corner and turn it clockwise, making it readable to the other person.
If you are on a lower position of the corporate ladder than the person you are handing your card to (e.g. you as an employee to the boss of the opposite party), say your name first as “My name is XXXXXX very nice to meet you” and extend your right hand with your card.
If you are “A” (the person who asked to have the meeting), put your card on the left hand of “B” (the client) who is holding the card case, so that “B” can do the same to your left hand and make the exchange faster and easier. It is important to always remember to place your right hand on a lower position than the opposite party, and hand in your business card. As the drawing says, “Lower to hand in, higher to receive”. This is a subtle sign of respect to the other person as saying, “You are important, I show you respect”. Also, remember to exchange cards with the most senior member of the opposite party first, bowing slightly as you do so and then on down the corporate ladder.
When you are ready to introduce yourself to another person, slide one card to the right (the one you had under the card case), and repeat the same steps from two to four.
In case the person you are handing the card to has your boss’s card on top of the card case, carefully slide your card under his card.
※Note 1: If the other person gives you the business card with both hands, put your card back under the card case and politely take it saying “Thank you very much” and pass your card next.
※Note 2: Card exchange has also and order. The superiors of both companies exchange first. Then the superior and the employee of the opposite company, and finally the employees.
I know it sounds too complicated, but when you really get to understand the reasons behind it, and realize how good it feels when people respect each other, and how these little details bring harmony in human relations, then I guarantee you start liking it.