It is in China that the business card began its prolific life in the 15th century. At that time it was simply a small paper card with your name printed on it. A visitor would announce his arrival to his host by giving his card at the door, which a footman would deliver to the nobleman or royalty in question, announcing the visitor’s wish to pay him or her a visit.
A Japanese business card is called a meishi.
The earliest real business cards were ‘trade cards’, seen everywhere in England at the beginning of the 17th century. They were used as advertising, but also as maps, giving directions to shops and places of business, as in those days the streets and buildings were not formally numbered.
In Europe, when the person you wanted to visit was not there, you would leave your card behind to show that you had stopped by. Women often wrote their “visiting days” on the card: the days and time when they would be at home to receive guests. Leaving behind a visiting card was thus also an invitation!
The layout of the Japanese meishi is very important and possibly quite different from, for example, a traditional Western business card: the company logo and business name take pride of place, followed by the job title and only then the name of the person. This is also how Japanese business people introduce themselves: first their company, then their business title, then their name. In Europe, it is more usual to present yourself with your name, then the name of your company.
When going to Japan, it is preferable that your meishi be printed in your home language on one side and in Japanese on the other. You present the card with the Japanese side up, and the information facing the person you are presenting it to. Hold it with two hands, with your thumbs above. Let them read the whole information. Do the same when you are given a card. Never put a card in your pocket, and even worse in your trouser's back pocket as this would symbolicaly mean that you are sitting on the other person!