High on my guilt list of accumulated office junk in need of sorting out is a filing box from my years in Japan. Its contents? Business cards - meishi, in Japanese - presented to me in settings ranging from diplomatic receptions to smoky Shinjuku nightclubs. 

Three years living full-time in Japan, and several more reporting on the country from afar, left me with a lifelong addiction to the business card ritual. The formal stand-up presentation - card presented in both hands with a little bow - is the essential conversation-opener, whether you're meeting a world famous captain of industry or a radical green activist (I have cards of both).

It goes with a formulaic exchange of words - 'Hajimemashite, meisho o douzo' ('nice to meet you, please accept my humble business card') - and, crucially, the polite acceptance of your interlocutor's meishi. This should be done with another slight bow, and followed by a careful study of the wording, both on the Japanese and the English side of the card. Only when you're sure you have it right do you place it reverently on the table in front of you or surreptitiously slip it into a pocket (never the back trouser one) or purse. 

The ritual, by the way, is basic good manners. Never make the mistake of unceremoniously scrunching up a meishi, or - I have seen it happen - using it during a conversation with its owner to pick your ear. 

But there's more to meishi than manners. On a practical level, business cards can be damned handy. Journalists loved business cards for several reasons. First, they help us avoid mispelling people's names - something which, believe it or not, we hate doing. They're also handy for revealing extra contact details, such as home phone or mobile numbers. Finally, in the good old days of expense-account troughing, they were a handy source of names 'entertaining'. 

The snag was that the amount of information on the card was in inverse proportion to the importance of its holder. Mine, for a jobbing freelance journalist, had my office and home address, several telephone numbers, fax, telex and a primitive email address (83:nsm003). Further up the scale, I have at least one bearing just a name - albeit on very high quality card. 

Now, it seems the entire business card subculture is going the way of the pre-lunch glass of sherry. More than half of people who previously used cards have given them up since the the pandemic, an IPsos survey for business daily CityAM revealed this week. Astonishingly, fewer than 15% of those of working age under 34 have ever doled out a piece of card with their name and number on it. Of those who previously used business cards, over half have not given one out in over four years.

Of course people still exchange coordinates at corporate schmoozes - for a variety of motives. But the approach these days seems to be to do it digitally, either via LinkedIn (which I will accept) or by business card apps, which you won't find on my mobile. Somehow, the idea of allowing someone who is, by definition, a stranger to squirt data into a device feels a little promiscuous. 

With the spring conference season coming up, I'm going to put in a new order for real cards.

And, though one of these days I'm going to chuck out my souvenirs from Japan, I hope to continue saying 'Meishi o douzo' for a while yet.