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How to properly handle a business card in Japan

Business cards in a Japanese context are important. Bring them. Receive them. Respect them.

Going to do business with a Japanese person? Learn how to handle business cards and how to follow business card etiquette.

Note, Japan is changing. Some companies are adopting Western business mannerisms, and Japanese who are overseas may take the “when in Rome” approach. Therefore some of these tips will not apply all of the time. However, those are still the rare exceptions. Most Japanese businesses and businessmen are traditional. Until you know who you are dealing with it is best to keep these tips in mind when doing business in Japan or with Japanese people.

The No Punches Pulled Executive Summary
When in Japan for business be sure to have plenty of business cards with you and store them in a business card case. When you receive someone’s business card treat it with the same respect you would treat one of that person’s treasured possessions that they have just handed you. Carefully watch what the other person does with your card for cultural cues on how you should handle theirs. It is possible to not only ruin a first impression, but also to personally offend someone by mishandling their business card.

View over Osaka from the top of Umeda Sky Building.
View over Osaka – Imagine the number of business card exchanges!

Seniority Matters, Learn the Dance
When you walk into a meeting in Japan with Japanese people normally everyone will stand up to exchange pleasantries and business cards. Normally it is expected that the highest ranking people from each party will exchange cards together first after being briefly introduced by a lower ranking person from the visitors group who already knows the hosts.

For example, say you are the highest ranking manager on a work trip and are visiting a new customer in Japan. You are accompanied by a lower ranking coworker who knows Japan and who perhaps was in charge of setting up the meeting so was in touch with the customer before your visit. When you enter the room, your coworker will try to identify the highest ranking counterpart on the customer side, and there will likely be a lower ranking person on the customer side doing the same thing in regards to your group. Once they have figured it out, which only takes a few seconds, someone will introduce you to the highest ranking person on their side and you will exchange business cards. Then, the number two person on your side will exchange with the same highest ranking customer, and so on, until everyone has been introduced to the highest ranking person. From there things often get a bit random until everyone in the room has exchanged cards.

Thanks for the free image @reshot_hq!

What I am I supposed to do with this card?
I was once with some Americans who had come to Japan for work and I was their host. I took them out to a fancy dinner at a place that I frequented and near the end of the meal the owner and chef came around to say hello and introduce themselves. This was in a part of Japan that doesn’t get many foreign guests, so the fact that I had brought other foreign friends in was sort of a big deal. Greetings and bows were exchanged, and of course, so were business cards. After we left the restaurant my friend looked at me incredulously and laughed, “What are you going to do with the chef’s business card?!” It was clear that he would never need to call or email the chef, he already had the shops card, he couldn’t speak Japanese and the chef didn’t speak English, so what’s the point?

Pragmatically there may not be a point. It’s a piece of paper that has someones name and contact information on it. You already have the same information in an email signature in many cases. However, in Japanese society, a meeting with someone in a professional environment is simply not complete without a business card exchange. One is expected to take that business card and use it to remember the person that you met.

The Second Meeting (Or is it the first…?)
You are expected to remember when you have previously received someone’s business card. One of the many embarrassing things one can do in a business setting with Japanese people is to pull out your business card case and prepare to exchange cards with someone with whom you have already exchanged cards with in the past. Even if you only met the person once in the last 6 months, it is still considered to be an insult if you have forgotten that you have already exchanged cards. It is equivalent to forgetting that you had met the person.

This is how a Japanese counterpart will interpret this unfortunate mistake.

  • They didn’t make an impression on you the first time you met.
  • You made no effort to remember them the first time you met.
  • You must not have spent any time reading their business card, or if it looked like you did, you were faking it.
  • You have forgotten that you had already met.
  • You didn’t remember their name or face.
  • If the person is more senior than you the negative impression will be enhanced.

The only time a Japanese person you have already met will offer you their business card a second time is if something significant on the card has changed. Then, when the cards are exchanged one person will often be heard saying that “oh, nothing has changed at all though, I’m still in the same (low) position.” Or, they will at least say something to indicate that they do in fact remember that you had already exchanged cards, they just wanted to give you another. They will make it clear that they realize you have already exchanged cards.

Pro Tip: If you often find yourself in Japanese-style business settings make a habit of asking your colleagues if there is likely to be anyone in the room you have already met. If there are, remember that, and instead of pulling out a business card greet them with a big smile and ask how they’ve been. You will instantly earn kudos.

Watch and Learn
As is often the case, the best way to figure out how you’re supposed to act is to watch and mimic. If after you exchange business cards if you sit down at a table, note what your counterpart does with the cards they have received.

The most traditional thing to do is to lay all of the cards for the people at the meeting face up on the table in front of you in rank order. This is only done in the most formal settings. It is normally not appropriate to stack all of the cards you have received on top of each other. It may be OK to put the card into your front shirt pocket, but watch what your counterpart does and and follow.

Card Incoming! Now what?

How Should I Receive the Card?The best place to store a business card you have just received is in a front short pocket.

Here’s a random list of things you should NOT do.

  • Don’t let the person see you put a business card you just received into your wallet or a pants pocket. 
  • Don’t spill anything on someones business card. If you do, apologize profusely and ask for another. Do not give the old one back.
  • Don’t hand someone your bent or dirty business card.
  • Don’t fiddle with someone’s business card.
  • Don’t let the person see you put their business card into a stack of other cards on your person.
  • Don’t let the person see you write on their business card.
  • Don’t fold business cards.

Business card culture in Japan is deep and has so many rules. Hopefully this article helps. Again, the best thing to do is watch and learn. Don’t do anything you haven’t seen your counterpart already do.

Good luck! Have a great business card life.

If you want to see some videos on business card exchange etiquette in Japan, search for “名刺交換” on YouTube.

This humorously highlights the contrast in Japanese and American card handling etiquette.
This is funny. When you pass the card to someone higher ranking, keep yours lower.

Japanese Lesson from Games: 顔が真っ青だ

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including the demo for Project Triangle Strategy, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

Triangle Strategy - Kao ga Massao
doushita. kao ga massao dazo, Benedict.

Japanese: どうした。顔が真っ青だぞ、ベネディクト。

Romaji: doushita. kao ga massao dazo, benedikuto.

English: What’s wrong? Benedict, Your face is completely pale!

This is pretty self explanatory, but the interesting phrase I wanted to highlight is 顔が真っ青だぞ. 顔 (kao) is face. 真っ青 (massao) means “completely blue” literally. だぞ is for emphasis. Translated, 顔が真っ青だ is used to describe someone’s face when all the blood has drained from it.

Why blue? I don’t have a good answer. But if you think about it… In English we may someone looks “white as a sheet.” But, do people really look that color when the blood has drained from their face when they are sick or suddenly surprised? If you look closely, it’s probably more of a pale blue color. This is where the Japanese term comes from.

And while we’re on the Project Triangle Strategy subject. Did everyone try this demo? Tactics Ogre was one of the first Famicom games I imported, so this is nostalgia right up my alley. I also like Fire Emblem, SMT: Devil Survivor, and Advance Wars in terms of turn-based strategy games. Right up my alley. The demo had far too much dialog, especially after it opened with a warning from the publisher that it may be difficult to follow the story as they are dropping you in partway though… But the game mechanics appear to be solid. Spell effects that change the terrain properties, bonus damage based on positioning, support attacks from nearby teammates — excite! And so much Japanese voice acting!

I sure hope this game is great when it is finally release!

Here’s a random scene on topic!

ほたるんの顔が真っ青で汗がだらだら流れるシーン【のんのんびよりのんすとっぷ5話
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Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka

I finally made it to Sumiyoshi Taisha after years of visiting Osaka. It was never on my radar as it’s a bit out of the way from the city center, but now that I’ve been there I wish I had gone sooner.

A friend of mine recently moved to the Sumiyoshi Taisha neighborhood, which was my excuse for finally visiting.

Sumiyoshi Taisha is the main shrine of all the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. On new years and during festivals the shrine attracts huge crowds. I would love to check it out at that time some day.

There is an iconic taiko bashi bridge that is steep and round. Taiko is Japanese for a round Japanese-style drum, and the bridge is shaped like that, hence the name. The bridge is one of the most memorable locations on the grounds. Grab a photo.

住吉大社 : GFDL,Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.1 Japan License
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
The grounds are quite large and spacious. Great place to take a walk or wander around.
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Omamori at Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Omamori (Good luck charms) left at the temple for luck
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka

The legend behind the good luck omamori here is unique. You try to find power stones yourself from inside of this stone fence. The stones actually have characters written on them in calligraphy ink. Once you have found a set of three stones with the characters 5 五, large 大, and power 力 (godairiki) written on them, you can bring them and purchase the omamori sack to put them in. Then you hang it up for good luck. Finally, you’re supposed to then write characters on stones yourself, and toss them back in for others to find. Pay it forward!

Sumiyoshi Taisha is on the way to Kansai International Airport. Maybe you can swing by as a last stop on a visit to the Kansai area! Enjoy!

Links:

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Japanese Lesson from Games: 難攻不落

Fire Emblem Three Houses - Nankou Furaku
ima ya ano yousai wa nankoufuraku da

Japanese: 難攻不落

Hiragana: なんこうふらく

Romaji: nankou furaku

Literal Meaning: Difficult to attack, won’t fall.

The entire sentence here is 今やあの要塞は難攻不落だ。

要塞 (ようさい) means fortress.

今や well, 今 (いま) means now. The extra particle や is for emphasis, and a smaller nuance that I won’t get into here.

So here Claude is saying, “Now that fortress is impenetrable.” Tough to attack, impossible to topple.

Initial searches for this term online mostly resulted in websites explaining what the term means… I did find this Japanese manga that has the term right in the title though. It’s called 難攻不落の魔王城へようこそ and it’s on Amazon.jp.

Fire Emblem Three Houses is FILLED with advanced Japanese phrases and vocabulary. The game is entirely voiced, and you can replay any dialog you want as long as you don’t leave the dialog sequence. The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Fire Emblem, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Look forward to more. This game is the gift that keeps on giving.

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Koshi Hikari Rice beer from Niigata

Not just any rice. Koshi Hikari!

Koshi Hikari itself is known as one of the highest quality rice brands in Japan. Despite the unmistakable quality and brand recognition of the rice, I wouldn’t have guessed this beer was made with rice if it wasn’t on the label. It had a light smooth taste and was refreshing and easy to drink, as they say in Japanese. I didn’t find it particularly amazing, but it wasn’t bad. It is certainly unique. I would recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking for something uniquely Japanese to try. For what it’s worth, the bottle is also wrapped in paper, as if it were a bag of rice.

I later tried Swan Lake Beer’s Porter, which, in my opinion, was a much more interesting beer.

Swan Lake Beer - Koshihikari
Swan Lake Beer – Koshi Hikari
Swan Lake Beer - Koshihikari - Label
Swan Lake Beer – Koshi Hikari Back Label
Swan Lake Beer - Koshihikari Front Label
Swan Lake Beer. Made in Niigata.

Links:

Swan Lake Beer: https://www.swanlake.co.jp/main/beer/en/

Review on Beer Tengoku (these guys know their beer): https://beertengoku.com/2015/09/03/swan-lake-koshihikari-lager/

Nintendo Switch Setup Tip – Opt out of Google Analytics

By default the Nintendo Switch eShop shares your data with Google Analytics. If you don’t want to feed your activity to “Big Data” you can change your settings with a few easy steps.

On your Switch go to the eShop.

Select your profile icon that is on the top right.

In your profile section you’ll see Available Funds and whatnot. From there, scroll all the way down to the bottom and you will see the Google Analytics Preferences.

Just click the Button that says Change, and on the next screen select the Radio Button that says “Don’t Share.”

That’s it! Note, if you are also on the Japanese eShop, the option is there too.

Here’s some other news on the same topic:

PSA: By Default, Nintendo Now Collects Data Through Google Analytics On Switch eShop (North America) [Nintendo Life] https://www.nintendolife.com/news/2020/12/psa_by_default_nintendo_now_collects_data_through_google_analytics_on_switch_eshop_north_america

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Dajyare. Japanese Jokes. Oyaji-gag. Learn them, but use with caution.

That’s right. Japanese jokes. Japanese jokes are pretty interesting. There is a whole category of them that is entirely based on word play. Dajyare are made mainly of words that can have multiple meanings when pronounced..

The jokes don’t always involve two ‘words’ that can have double meanings, they occasionally use the grammar in the middle of a sentence can sound like a word as well. The closest cultural translation is probably “dad jokes,” however dad jokes to not always include the same wordplay as Japanese dajyare.

Dajyare is 駄洒落。駄、which is the ‘da’ used in ‘dame 駄目’, which means, bad, more or less. 洒落 (しゃれ)、means joke. So, together dajyare is a type of bad, or failed joke. Sometimes they are also called oyajigyagu. Where oyaji is old man, and gyagu, is… gag. The proper response when you hear a bad joke in Japan is to say ‘samui’ 寒い, which means cold.

Warning: Though they can be clever, dajyare, or oyaji gags, are universally considered to be groaners. They are so horrible that if used incorrectly the joke teller may be shunned by their peers. The younger generation will undoubtedly label the frequent wielder of oyaji gags to be someone who is awkward and completely out of touch. This is because the true dajyare master can work the jokes into any serious conversation without missing a beat. The dajyare master is always listening. Listening to every word in a conversation while simultaneously searching their expansive database of dajyare to retrieve and execute one at the appropriate time. Timing is everything. The best dajyare isn’t lazily delivered out of nowhere as a standalone gag, it is stealthily worked into innocuous conversation, forcing the listeners to acknowledge the joke, while suppressing their disgust.

Here’s a famous example.

Japanese: monoreru mo noreru. モノレールも乗れる。
English: You can also ride the monorail.
Humor: Try saying the Japanese aloud. You say monoreru twice, the first monoreru is ‘monorail’, the second ‘mo’ is also, and ‘noreru’, is can ride.

If you can manage to work that into a regular sentence… you’ll be the talk of the town!

For example:

A: Hey, getting to Tokyo Disney Land is easy! You can just take the train!
A: 東京ディズニーランドは行きやすいよ。電車で行ける!

B: You can even take the monorail!
B: モノレールも乗れる!

A: So… So cold…
A: さ、さむい。

Here is my personal dajyare creation.

A: How do you say sidewalk in Japanese?
B: hodou (歩道)
A: naruhodo! (なるほど!)

Now that’s comedy.

Want more? Here’s 100 Japanese Oyaji Gags you can use… Who are these kids? I want to hang out with them.

100 Dajyare in Rapid Succession!!! Oh the Humanity!

Need help? Here’s an explanation of the first five jokes to get your mind in the right space so that you can work out the rest.

赤色はあかん aka wa akan

赤色はあかん。

赤色 (akairo) means “red.” あかん (akan) is kansai dialect for “that’s won’t do” or “that’s bad,” it’s basically the same as だめ in standard Japanese. So, this is funny because they are saying “Red is no good!” but, the あか sound repeats.

イカいかすねぇ ika ikasu ne!

イカ(ika) means squid. いかす (ikasu) is slang for “cool.” so this is just the squid is cool. Forms of this joke appear frequently in the awesome game, Splatoon and Splatoon 2.

牛を飼う ushi wo kau

牛を飼う (ushi wo kau) simply means to keep a cow as a pet. This joke is absolutely bonkers hilarious (in an oyaji gag way) because the verb 飼うis pronounced (kau) and sounds just like “cow.” And, “cow,” is 牛 (ushi) in Japanese!

エイでえいっ!ei de ei!

エイでえいっ!An エイis a stingray. The kind that swims in the ocean. えい! Is something you might shout when you would say “Yeah!” or “Let’s goooooo!” in English. So you can kinda imagine someone riding on the back of a ray shouting yeah! Maybe it’s Aquaman.

女が立ちあがーる onnna ga tachi agaaru

女が立ちあがーる (onna ga tachiagaaru) means the girl stands up. The “a” sound in “tachi agaru” has been artificially lengthened to make the joke work. The joke, is that tachi a gaaru sounds like “girl” ガール in romanized Japanese. Get it?

Learn all 100 of these dajyare and then start writing your own. Might be fun!

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Japanese Lesson from Games: 損切り

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Octopath Traveler, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

Octopath Traveler - Songiri
songiri tte yatsu yo. shitteru yone?

Kanji: 損切り

Hiragana: そんぎり

Romaji: songiri

English: To cut your losses.

Teresa scolds, 「損切りってやつよ、知ってるよね?」songiri tte yatsu yo. shitteru yone? This phrase means, “It’s about cutting your loses, you know that right?”

They key phrase itself should be somewhat easy to internalize, even though I don’t think I had heard it before seeing it in this game. The first character means 損 (そん) “loss.” 損する is the verb form and literally means to “lose” in the sense of profit and loss, not to lose a competition (負ける) and not in the sense of misplacing and object (なくす). The second character means “cut,” so the characters point to the “cut loss” meaning directly.

The grammar immediately following is very informal, as is the entire speech bubble. Our hero says, 損切りってやつよ.

ってやつ is a very informal way of saying ということ. She’s saying, that she’s talking about the thing called “cutting your losses.” She then follows by saying, 知ってるよね, you know that right? It should be a snarky tone, translated something like… “It’s called ‘cutting your losses.’ You have heard of that concept… right?” So sassy!

I tweeted this as well! Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

Japanese Lesson from Games: たまげた

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Octopath Traveler, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

Octopath Traveler Screenshot - Tamageta
tamageta… koitsu wa shourai, oomono ni naru zo

Kanji: 魂消た (The kanji doesn’t seem to be that commonly used, and it wasn’t in the game.)

Hiragana: たまげた

Romaji: tamageta

English: To be astonished, startled.

I don’t think I had learned the phrase たまげた before… It’s funny. I like it. The Kanji doesn’t seem to be commonly used, but it literally means that your spirit vanished or disappeared.

The Japanese website GOGEN explains that the expression has been around since the Meiji Era and means to have such a surprising experience that your spirit disappears. It also says that now there is also another expression, 魂切る (tamagiru), which currently has the same meaning, but wasn’t always that way.

I tweeted this as well! Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Traditional Soba at Yamatoan on Mount Yoshino in Nara (Yoshinoyama)

Yoshinoyama (吉野山 or Mount Yoshino) in Nara prefecture is mainly famous for it’s beautiful cherry tree blossoms in the spring. However, I was in the area in the summer as part of another trip, and Google Maps led us to a wonderful soba shop, Yamatoan.

Inaka Soba at Soba restaurant Yamatoan on Mt. Yoshino
Inaka Soba set at Yamatoan (circa. 2020)

The staff are very friendly. Maybe it’s because we went on off-season and they weren’t very busy, but they took some extra time to tell us the difference in “inaka soba” (country-style old-fashioned soba) and regular soba. They also serve “soba yu” at the end of your meal, which the left over warm water that is left over from when the soba noodles were prepared. You’re meant to pour this warm broth into your soba dipping sauce (tsuyu) and drink it like tea.

The shop also had a big jambe drum from Mali… The staff told us that he used to play in a drum circle. I’m saying staff, but, he actually might be the owner, or manager, not sure. The shop also sells high-end hemp backpacks from Nepal. It’s that kind of natural place with a hipster vibe.

Soba restaurant Yamatoan
Yamatoan on Mount Yoshino in Nara (Yoshinoyama)

We cheated and came to Yamatoan by car. If you decide to walk up the mountain to get here, you’ll be sure to work up an appetite and you’ll enjoy passing by the other rustic shops along the way.

Good times! Good food! If you’re in the area be sure to check it out, might be fun.

Soba restaurant Yamatoan
They also have a soba-making workshop!

Links:

Yamatoan Official Website

Nara Sightseeing – Yamatoan

Address: 2296, Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Pref.