Business Cards in Japan

businesscards in Japan are exchanged like germs, that is to say they are very common. It's not just business men that use them, they are used in any setting that calls for introductions, college students for example. The reason why they're so popular is because they save a lot much time in building relationships...
What is it with business cards in Japan?
Japan is perhaps the most famous for business cards, as it's the only place in the world that has turned the simple concept of passing information, into a methodical practice requiring rehearsal time.
But of course, if you don't see beyond the surface you're missing what Japan is really about (and if you've got this far I'm sure you are filled with curiosity about these things!)
"People often have 2 or 3 different cards for varied purposes, such as numerous business interests or personal introductions".
What does the practice represent?
* Respect - respect for your partner
* Representation - presenting yourself well
* Rapport - building a strong relationship from the start
Did Japan invent business cards?
Japan has made this custom their own but they didn't invent the business card...
"Little bit of history..."
That honour goes to China. Or more to the point, a 15th century Imperial Eunuch; Minister of the Chinese Empire. Known as visiting cards they were used to write general notes and messages on by the wealthy.
Next, they became popular in 17th century France, where they were used for the same purpose. Most notably by Louis XIV, the 'Sun' King.
Finally, at around the same time, they were used in London where they evolved to advertise local businesses. There we have it, the history of the business card.
"Early business cards had small maps printed on the back because buildings weren't individually addressed."
They were not introduced to Japan until the latter half of the 19th century, when Japan began to westernise.
Source: 'SmasHits.com'
"Business cards play a big role in Japanese relationship building"
As well as using business cards when introducing yourself to people, it's best to establish a relationship through mutual friends. It's that universal saying, 'it's not what you know, it's who you know' and that message rings just as true here.
'Gold plated and heavy weight gloss business cards aren't guranteed to get you that business deal. But there's no second chance to make a good first impression...'
The Japanese have a gift for adopting elements of foreign culture and making it their own, the business card is a perfect example. Not only does it give you an opportunity to introduce yourself; in Japan it can control everything from -
* Seating order * Language * Who your peers are * Even who pays for a meal!
Basically, these little cards have a lot of pulling power in Japan...
Should I take my own business card?
With the important role these cards play in Japan you could be forgiven for wondering if you should take your own business cards. Networking can be quite difficult in Japan without them so the simple answer is... YES!
* Even if you're not on business
(And while we're there)
* Even if you've never had business cards
Personal cards -
So if you have business cards with your personal email, great, take those. If you don't have business cards, create personal cards! All you need is your name and email on them, and any other information you'd like to add. Here are some reasons why it's a good idea:
* With the pace of life now, it's so practical * It's awkward to ask for someone's number, or even to ask if they want yours. Then of course you've got to find a piece of paper and a pen to jot down your number onto * You can design your card based on a hobby on yours. Golf, football, martial arts... Perfect for getting people to know you (and remember you) * If you even get to the point of writing your number or email down, people lose scraps of paper like it's going out of fashion. I know, I've had that happen to me! With an attractive, tidy business card it'll slip nicely into someone's wallet along with credit/debit cards and most importantly, won't be lost! * The Japanese are shy by comparison to the West. It's a lot more harmonious and casual to simply hand over a card with your details, during a general introduction/conversation
There are countless websites that allow you to create your own business cards. For those that are interested, here are a couple of reputable web-sites so you can start designing your own unique cards:
Fast Cards - U.K
PsPrint - U.S
Why have business cards become such a big part of Japanese Culture?
The Japanese have always placed importance on class, rank and seniority. Even though it's not stressed as much as it has been in the past, it's deeply ingrained into the Japanese mentality. During the Edo period (1603-1868) position in society would have been determined by visual cues such as clothes. Often these clothes had to be worn by law to indicate your place in society. But with the shift into the Meiji period (1868-1912) business cards gained in popularity for introduction.
Before the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912) position in society would have been known visibly by aspects such as clothes. But with the end of the Edo Period in 1868 (1603-1868) the importance of class still played a prominent part in Japanese Culture, as it does today.
Enter the Business card; they were introduced in the 1870s at the beginning of the Meiji period. As more and more ranks were introduced to Japans society the need to identify a person's position become ever more important. Etiquette was largely affected by someone's level in regard to yourself; it was difficult to network if you couldn't first determine their social standing.
In keeping with the Japanese nature, the process of exchanging business cards was developed to an art.
Here is a video on how to exchange business cards. Exchanging business cards is a very visual aspect of Japanese culture, watching how it's done is the best way to familiarise yourself.
* Estimate how many cards you are going to take then double it, if you want to network at all well you'll be burning through them fast.
* By printing cards with English on one side and Japanese on the other you're paying the highest complement, and increasing your chances of meeting again.

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