In Western culture, exchanging business cards is a simple, casual gesture of introduction. In Japan, the protocol used to exchange meishi properly is formal, rule-laden, and full of meaning. Those who ignore this difference risk an insult that is likely to affect any future relationship.
The Japanese consider the business card to be part of the person and company identified on the card. To treat that card inappropriately is to disrespect its owner and their associates; to honor the card signifies deference to the business associate and the company.
In Japan, meishi are carried in protected cases — never tucked into a wallet or pocket — and are issued to all employees regardless of status. Cards are also exchanged routinely in non-business settings, so “電子卡片” (with personal contact information only) are sometimes given in social situations. Savvy Westerners meeting any Japanese person anywhere in the world will always have their business cards at the ready and know how to offer them.
The proper way to exchange business cards in a one-on-one situation begins with the presenter holding the card at the top corners using both hands, face up and turned so that it can be read by the receiver. Before offering the card to be taken, the presenter introduces him/ herself by company affiliation, position, and name. The receiver reads the card as the introduction is being made. The presenter then offers the card with a gesture, and the receiver accepts it by taking the two bottom corners with both hands and pausing to re-read the card silently, nodding to acknowledge the information. It is especially polite to comment briefly on the information on the card, for example, “Ah yes, ABC Company, I am familiar with your products” or “I see your offices are in XYZ City. Is this far from Tokyo?” The receiver then thanks the presenter, bows, and carefully stores the card in a protected place, but never in a pocket and never folded or written on. The receiver then follows the same procedure to offer his/her own card. How the meishi is treated is an indicator (to the presenter) of how the presenter will be treated in future dealings.
When meishi are being exchanged at a meeting, received cards can be kept on the table while business is conducted. If several cards have been exchanged, they can be arranged on the table in front of the receiver but the highest ranking person’s meishi should be honored by a higher position than the others.