Personal identity VS company identity

When you work in a traditional Japanese company the identity of your company is always above of yours. You are part of a group, you are part of a family, a family whose members are all the company employees. Japanese society is “collectivist”, and US society is “individualist”. In a “collectivist” society, every individual tries to benefit the groups interests above his own interests, if everyone follows the same behavior the group will get better and everyone will be indirectly benefited. Some people say that Japanese behave like ants. On the other hand, in a individualistic society, as Adam Smith explained in the “Wealth of Nations”, everyone aims for his own benefit, and indirectly the group wealth improves.

In general, in western countries we look to stand out above the crowd, Japanese people don’t want to stand out, they don’t want to be noticeable. In a Japanese discotheque, everyone dances facing to the DJ, it’s a HUGE group of people dancing together is if it were a robot battalion. In a western discotheque, everyone dances how he likes, looking to different places and creating little groups of friends who push other groups trying to protect their space.

The order in which Japanese business cards show your personal information is:

  • 1.-Company name
  • 2.-Department / What do you do
  • 3.-Your name

Meishi
Name of the company on top and 1.- Position 2.-Name 3.- Contact information

In a western business card, the name of the company could be before the name of the person but the department and your position in the company is always after the name. In a Japanese business card, the “name of the person” is almost always in third position.

Western business card order:

  • 1.-Name
  • 2.-Company name
  • 3.-Department / Position

MeishiGuy Kawasaki‘s (Raised in the US) business card, his name is the biggest thing, it’s his identity.

Why the company’s name and the position goes before the person’s name? In the Japanese Society the “rank” of each person is very important, it’s something that comes from the samurai era. If a 25 years old guy, who works in a restaurant and he has to talk to a University professor who is 55 years old, he would have a different Japanese than when he talks with a colleague. We also has to do a much more pronounced reverence to salute the professor than when he meets a friend.

Let’s suppose now that the 25 years old guy just met the university professor and he doesn’t know absolutely nothing about him. The guy would feel uneasy, because he doesn’t know which language register to use. That’s why, in Japan when you meet someone for the first time, the first thing to do is to interchange business cards (Meishi). When you have the business card, the first thing you see is the company, then what does the person in front of you do in that company and the last thing the person’s name. The 25 years old guy would look at the business card, he would see the university name, we would see that he is a professor and in that moment he would know how to talk and how to act in general.

It’s much more important to know the group of the other person than to know his name. It’s more important to know how treat a person than knowing his identity.

By the way, in the moment when you are interchanging business cards you have to say:

“NameOfTheCompanyのNameとお申します”

It means “My name is Name and I work at NameOfTheCompany”.

4 Comments
  • Håvard

    June 13, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    A very educational post, thank you! I am interested in moving to Japan one day, and this helps me alot =)

  • _rem

    June 14, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Also, it is important to notice that a business card in Japan or Asia stands for an Identity Card, just like a driving license in US. Not everyone has business card.

  • Derek

    March 18, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    typo: と申します
    Also, usually business cards don’t have sentences on them; just titles (same as in English). But as you say, the order is different (same with addresses).

  • Frankie

    January 24, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Great post but maybe you should try to go to a different club as I fell you are going to the wrong one as Tokyo got GREAT parties! ^_^