Cuisine in any country is influenced by its geographical, socio-political as well as climatic changes. The fact that Japan is an island nation also has an impact on its cuisine. Typical Japanese food consists of rice and Miso soup, coupled with a variety of seafood, noodles, and fresh vegetables. Sushi has gained popularity worldwide, earning Japanese restaurants more Michelin 3 Stars, than even the French!
UNESCO has added Japanese cuisine into its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, meaning it is important to preserve such a way of dining, for the survival of traditional culture. It is one of the 3 cuisines to have made it on the list. First being French, and the latest addition being Mexican cuisine. Food in Japan is more than just an item for consumption. It exhibits a kind of artistic and creative representation even in the simplest form of food, which makes it more appealing and worthy of appreciation.
The flavours could possibly be a little ‘different’ than you might have come across otherwise. It is essential to understand the dining & business etiquettes of Japan, in order to not be overwhelmed by it –
1. Dress for the occasion
Business lunches or dinners are an extension of the dealings with your Japanese counterparts. The idea of conservative dressing applies here too. Dark coloured outfits for both men and women.
2. More business cards (Meishi)
These are exchanged at meetings and even while at business lunches or dinners. English to Japanese translation of your card is a must, and the Japanese version should face up, while giving it to any colleague. Also, business cards are given and accepted with both hands. It is thought to be rude if you take the card and slide it in your pocket without reading it.
3. Seating arrangements
Tatami mats are used for traditional Japanese meals. The most honoured person or perhaps the host, is seated at the middle of the table. The Japanese use slippers for anywhere indoors, be it at home, schools or even traditional restaurants. They are usually available at the entrance of any place.
4. Before, During & After Meals
The Japanese say Itadakimasu (equivalent of Bon Appetit) before eating and Gochisousamadeshita (“It was a feast” or gratitude towards the meal) after eating. Begin eating only after your host does. It is important to finish eating everything you’ve ordered. Proper etiquette involves even eating the last grain of rice. It is okay to slurp while eating, however, burping is not acceptable. For other details, its best to follow your Japanese colleagues.
5. Chopsticks know-how
Food is eaten with chopsticks. Japanese chopsticks are slightly different in shape and size as compared to the ones in China or Korea. They first need to be separated from the blunt end, so you can have a pair of chopsticks. While eating rice, hold the bowl near your mouth, so that the food doesn’t fall out. Do not stick the chopsticks straight up in your rice bowl. This resembles in cense sticks burnt during funerals. Do not dig into your food with the chopsticks, it is considered impolite. Place them on the chopstick rest and not on your plate while having a conversation. If your chopstick using skills cannot be made public, you may ask for a spoon or a fork, however, it would be impressive to use them and blend in with your colleagues. Below are some taboos to be avoided –
It is a common practice to pour drinks for others and let them do the same for you. You may drink once your host has started drinking. The word used for toasting is Kanpai (cheers!). Asking for other beverages, in case you do not consume alcohol, would be considered perfectly fine.
7. Bills and Tips
The host usually pays for the food. At times, it might depend on the rank. It is expected that you reciprocate this gesture, not necessarily at a traditional Japanese restaurant. Tipping is not expected or mandatory.
India and Japan have cultural and business ties since 1903. There are a number of Japanese companies in India, belonging to the manufacturing, financial, retail and automobile industry. Knowing these etiquettes is important, as socializing with your colleagues also plays a role in creating a good impression about your company.