Japan tries to take business card ritual online

Japan’s time-honoured ritual of exchanging business cards face-to-face is under pressure as the government promotes a “new lifestyle” to combat the coronavirus, according to a recent report from Reuters. Recommendations include frequent hand-washing, social distancing, off-peak commuting, video conferencing – and the exchange of “meishi,” or business cards, online.

The practice involves extracting a pristine card from a card holder – not a pocket or wallet – then exchanging cards with the right hand, and finally, scrutinising the received card while making small talk, often about the information contained. People depend on business cards to exchange contacts “and start conversation,” said Chikahiro Terada, CEO of cloud-based business card management service, Sansan Inc. who was cited in the article.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has extended a nationwide state of emergency to fight the virus through May 31 but said some areas with fewer infections could begin to ease restrictions. Japan has not had the explosive surge of infections seen in many other countries; to date it has nearly 15,500 confirmed cases and 578 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK.

The coronavirus outbreak is increasing pressure to change many traditional practices long been criticised as inefficient. Abe recently told cabinet ministers to overhaul regulations and identify burdensome procedures with a view to scrapping or simplifying them, among them the stamping of paper documents with traditional “hanko” seals, according to Reuters.

The coronavirus “is changing the work culture in Japan in many different ways”, said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus. “It’s not like turning a light switch off and on, but reforms have been accelerated by the pandemic.”