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Rumour has it that over 12 million meishi change hands daily in Japan. So what are they and why are they so indispensable?

What are they?
Business cards in Japan look very like the ones that we use in the west. They normally contain the name of the person, company address, phone and fax number and are either written entirely in Japanese or have the English on one side and Japanese on the other.

Reading someone's meishi in Japan gives a clear indication of who is the higher of the two people who are meeting whether socially or for business. Bows and language reflect this in subsequent conversations.

Business card etiquette
When 2 people exchange business cards, the visitor's card is the first to be presented with one hand, and the writing facing the receiver. The visitor should say who they are and from what company while handing over the card. They should also remember to bow. The most important thing is to do this smoothly with no fumbling.

If you receive someone's card, you should hold it in the palm of your left hand and read it. During the meeting or discussion, it should be placed facing you on the table. This is very advantageous as you can always look at it again if you cannot remember the name of the person. You should not write on the card, put it in any of the pockets of your trousers or put it away without reading it. The card is considered to be "the person" and should be treated with respect. It can be placed in your shirt pocket, handbag or wallet.

Business cards can also serve as an address book. The great thing here is that, when someone leaves, all you have to do is remove their card and add in the new one. No scribbling out of old addresses!

If you are planning to visit Japan, make sure you take your own business cards because then, even if you don't speak the language, you will be able to introduce yourself!