Never flick, throw, slide, lob or otherwise push your Japanese business card across the table - always present your Japanese business card holding it with both hands, Japanese-language side facing forward (having your company logo at the top of the Japanese-language side will help you orientate it correctly!), to the most senior member of the Japanese party first, bowing slightly as you do so and then on down the corporate ladder.
Accept a Japanese business card with respect, using both hands, saying 'Thank you' or 'Hajimemashite' as you do so.
I recall an event held in the US to which the senior management of our Japanese partners had travelled to mark the signing of an important agreement.
The Japanese executives lined up in a receiving line which we were to move down extending our greetings and our business cards. My colleague to the right of me expressed some surprise at the formality of the event.
"Your kidding, right? These people are Japanese" I asked him, amazed.
"No," he replied; still without a clue,"are we supposed to bow?"
"You do know they take exchanging business cards pretty seriously," I answered, "and yes you're supposed to bow slightly."
"Business cards? I don't have any of my business cards with me."
"Jesus Christ," I whispered as we were getting closer to the beginning of the line, "You need to duck out of here right now."
"You're nuts," he replied angrily, "They can understand I don't have any cards with me."
"OK, suit yourself" I said and soon found myself in front of the first of the ten Japanese executive. Usually in a meeting with the Japanese, they arrange it so you greet the most senior person first and then move down the line. In this case it was reversed. Whether this was a concession to US custom or simply foisted on them I don't know, but I expect, for good reason, the latter.
As I and my team were regularly doing business with the Japanese we had a set of cards printed with the information on the front duplicated in Japanese on the back. I had no idea how accurate the translation was but had used them before without incident and so assumed they, at least, didn't contain anything offensive.
I went through the ritual of handing the Japanese executive my card (Japanese version face up) with both hands, bowing slightly. I accepted his card with a thank you (in English) and made a show of studing it on both sides and nodding my head (this part isn't covered in the description I've linked, but I had read somewhere else that it was called for).
I then moved on to the next executive, but to my right I could hear my colleague mutter
"I have to apologize I haven't any of my cards with me."
The first executive issued a low throated grumble that would have done Toshiro Mifune proud.
My colleague mumbled something else I couldn't make out and then we were moving down the line again. I went through the ritual, but again heard my colleague almost groan miserably
"I'm terribly sorry, but you see I've left my cards at my desk and I just didn't expect that there would be a receiving line..."
Again the reply was a classic Mifune grunt.
I didn't want to be distracted so I tried to ignore what was going on to my right. It may not have actually happened, but my memory, at least, is that with each new position down the line there was a new Japanese executive issuing a disapproving groan.
Unfortunately, our company, although global in scope, didn't have a concerted effort to recognize the customs of our foreign partners, and doing so was left pretty much to those of us who most often interacted with people from other countries.
As a result, during the dinner one of the US executives , apprently trying to engage in table conversation, advised the Japanese CEO how much he loved Japanese culture, ninjas in particular,
and how much his kids loved the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.
None of this compared to the debacle that occurred the next day when a much smaller meeting was held in the boardroom. Fortunately the Japanese CEO was playing golf with our CEO, but three of the more senior Japanese executives attended. The meeting was to discuss aspects of implementing our joint-venture and of the three Japanese executives, only one (seated between the other two) did the talking ( in admirable english) for them.
By way of preface, our company was British owned and like many UK firms had "Royal" in it's title.
During the meeting one of our corporate lawyers sought to assure our Japanese partners that he was on top of certain crucial legal processes and much to my horror told them
"Don't wolly, Loyal will take velly good care of you."
Clearly the other two Japanese executive understood at least some english because they both turn to the third, firing off heated Japanese.
The spokesman looked accross the table at our lawyer and said
"Excuse me. I don't think I understood what you just said."
Incredibly the fool repeated what he said in exactly the same way that he said it the first time.
All hell broke loose with the Japanese standing up and shouting in their own language, and the Americans in the room offering all sorts of apologies in theirs. The General Counsel loudly suggested we take a break, and physically dragged his young associate out of the room.
This wasn't one my deals and so I wasn't directly in contact with any of the folks in the Japanese company, but I suspected that the outrage that persisted after the incident, and the immediate firing of the corporate attorney was to a large extent posturing, because all was well and forgotten when the contract was renegotiated and the japanese received some more favorable terms.
After that, the company hired a consultanting firm to provide senior management and certain select employees with cultural sensitivity training.