Six Tips For Your Business Lunch Meeting in Japan

If you want to succeed at business in Japan, then one of the most important things to master is the business meal. There are many customs and rules associated with eating out with potential business partners, and while your hosts may allow you a bit of leeway and forgive a few faux pas here and there, it is advisable to arrive armed with some insider knowledge to help you get ahead.


1. Greetings and Introductions are important

First impressions in Japan are important, and you must master the art of the bow to present yourself well. Your hosts may take into account that you’re a Westerner and thus unaccustomed to such traditions, but it’s always useful to know how to reciprocate a bow. Your back should be straight with your hands at your sides. The longer and deeper the bow will indicate the level of respect being shown. After introductions have been carried out, you should also avoid putting your hands in your pockets as this is a sign of boredom, which will undo all that careful bowing work beforehand!

2. Learn how to use chopsticks properly

In formal occasions, there usually won’t be any Western-style cutlery available so you’ll need to know how to handle chopsticks correctly. Do not point your chopsticks at your dining companions, or use them to gesture. Don’t ever pass food with your chopsticks as well, as this is reminiscent of funeral rites, which may not go down well at the table!

Photo by Michael Maggs

Photo by Michael Maggs

3. Don’t waste food

Unlike in China, where it is considered rude to clear your plate of food, you’re encouraged to clear your plate in Japan and not leave anything to waste.  Also, do not pour soy sauce directly on your food, but instead add it to a small bowl, dip your food into it, and top up more soy sauce as required.

4. Drinks are convivial affairs

Meals are often accompanied by drinks, and there is a strong tradition of giving toasts. Join in the toast with the others, but make sure your fellow diners’ glasses are topped off as this is an immense sign of respect in the country!

5. Patience and respect are key

You should wait for the honoured guest to begin eating before starting on your own food, as this is a sign of respect. If you are the honoured guest, then it is important to demonstrate patience while waiting for everyone else to be ready and for the food to be served before you can begin.

Photo by User Peachykeen

Photo by User Peachykeen

6. Gift-giving is acceptable

If you are going to give gifts to your dining partners, be sure there are enough for the entire group. Avoid giving gifts in sets of four or nine, however, as these are unlucky numbers and a thoughtful gesture could receive suspicious looks.

Even though business in Japan is very different from the West, if you get the basics right, success can be yours. Having a basic knowledge of the language is another great way to demonstrate the respect that is so highly valued in Japan. Take a look at Language Trainer’s Japanese language course, or if you think you’ve picked up a few bits here and there and want to test your current skills, why not try taking a free Japanese language test?