When traveling to Japan, it's important to understand that customs regarding business card exchange are far different from those at home. The Japanese place importance on both the process of exchanging business cards, and the quality of the cards themselves. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Thus, it's crucial to know many of the basic rules of translation and printing in order to make your first impression in Japan a positive one.
TIP: Have Your Business Card Professionally Translated
Probably the most obvious item that many Westerners overlook when creating cards for Japan, is presenting their clients with a clean, professionally translated business card into Japanese. Although virtually all Japanese clients will be able to read your English business card, having your card translated into Japanese serves a dual purpose: First, it first shows your client that you've taken the extra step to observe and respect their culture. Second, it also allows you to provide phonetic assistance in Japanese for content on your card such as difficult surnames or obscure city names that are not easily read in English by a Japanese native speaker.
TIP: Always Use A Professional Native-Language Speaking Translator
Many people think they can have someone "that knows a little Japanese" perform a translation of their business card. Others may even think they can use translation software like Babelfish to translate their card's information. Both of these ideas could lead to disastrous results. When having a card translated, one must always use a native-language speaking professional translator. Always. This ensures that your message in conveyed properly, and will start off your meeting on the right foot.
TIP: Have Your Business Card Professionally Typeset
Business cards in Japan carry a much greater importance than in the West. Many professionals think that simply adding a Japanese content sticker or decal to the back of their pre-printed existing English cards will do the job overseas. Others think that printing their own cards at home via perforated tear-off card stock will also be "good enough" in Japan. Again, these are big mistakes because "good enough" is not the right objective for the Japanese audience.
Due to the limited space and content on a business card, some think they can do this themselves. However, balancing the art of Asian typesetting is even more difficult at limited point sizes and a reduced amount of real estate. Font weights and content should flow on the Japanese side exactly the same way as the English. This is why it's important to use professional typesetters who specialize in Japanese fonts in order to preserve your company card's style and branding for your Japanese audience.
TIP: Have Your Business Card Professionally Printed
Take the time to have dual-sided English and Japanese bilingual business cards created for your next visit to Japan. In this modern age of digital printing, this is much easier than it used to be. There are agencies online that can also create electronic press-ready PDF files for you to print at your local print shop. The days of requiring Japanese fonts on the press are long gone. Select a card stock that works for you and is durable to show both quality and longevity. This is not the time to try to capitalize on those "free" online business card offers that often use flimsy card stock or subsidize the printing by placing an ad on the back.
If you follow these tips above, you will already be well on your way to a successful meeting in Japan, which starts with perfect Japanese business cards.