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Sunday, June 25, 2000


The do's and don'ts of business card etiquette

Please don't tell Mr. Watanabe that his business card is now in a million pieces strewn among the bras and underwear in my washing machine. This is just the latest faux pas in my history of malicious treatment of business cards.

Most people have heard that in Japan business cards are very important. From all the hoopla I heard before I came to Japan, I expected to find bookstores stocked with best sellers on business card etiquette and perhaps even a "Mr. Manners" column in the newspaper reminding people not to wash someone else's business card.

So, you can imagine how surprised I was when I received the following rather unconventional business cards: a handmade card printed on washi paper, a card in Braille, one with a laminated dried flower, one with snowflakes as a background, one with the person's picture on it, one with a photo of two helmet crabs copulating, one with a stamp of the person in a dragon suit, one with Sesame Street characters, one with "Made from recycled paper" printed on it, one that says "Forever Young!" on it.

Japanese people also sometimes play tricks with their names in English, something hard for Westerners to understand. The owner of Bridgestone Tire company for example, is Mr. Ishibashi (stone bridge). He reversed these two kanji to come up with the name Bridgestone. A Japanese friend of mine has decided to name his home page "bridgebig" because his name in kanji is (Ohashi) (big bridge). He insists "bridgebig" sounds better. The other day I received a business card from a guy who owns a company that sells toothbrushes. The name of the company is "Brush." On the English side of the business card, he changed the name Brush to "she-love" because, if you're Japanese, she-love is the sound of the word "brush" backward. No, us Westerners will never really get it.

Perhaps one reason there is such a variety of business cards in Japan is because there are vending machines where you can have them made up on the spot from templates. So, should you happen to go into business spontaneously, or if you just want to know what it's like to be the president of a major company for a few days, you can buy your business cards from one of these machines.

On my planet, the United States, we're much more conventional about the use of business cards. They're usually plain, very business-like and all the same size. In Japan, women's business cards are usually smaller than men's. When I first made up my business cards in Japan, someone recommended I have rounded corners to make the card more feminine. I didn't.

Another difference is that Japanese people often have their home telephone number and address on their cards. Personally, I think business cards should have a magnetic strip on the back where you can add personal information as you like, including your resume or your latest novel. The other person could just slide your business card into their computer at home and read it.

If you're wondering about business card etiquette, here are some basic rules to follow when exchanging business cards with Japanese people.

When you receive someone's card, it is polite to inspect the card and marvel aloud at the person's status or title in the company. Japanese people exchange business cards to find out the other person's title and to determine what level of politeness to use. A good illustration of this is when recently, the president of an oil company stuffed my business card into his pocket without even glancing at it. It was a clear indication of my status.

When you receive someone's card, never write on it, defacing it with e-mail addresses or restaurant recommendations. Once the person is no longer standing in front of you, you may write on it.

When giving someone your business card, hand it to them right side up so they can easily read it without having to turn the card around. Don't ever give out dirty cards worn around the edges. And if you're giving your card to several people, don't deal out your cards. This is not a place to show your bridge skills.

Never clean out your wallet at a restaurant, tearing up the unwanted business cards and leaving them in a pile on the table. I've done this, only to have the waitress greet me the next time with "Here, you forgot these the other day," and give them back to me.

Lastly, never ever wash someone's business card.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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