Some weeks ago, I went to dinner to a Japanese restaurant. On that occasion, I realized that very often people make mistakes when encountered with different cultural habits. It is good, even recommendable, to be curious and open to taste other cuisines. However, if you are also interested in other details such as how to use specific cutlery or the correct way of drinking tea in other cultures, the experience becomes far more enriching. Moreover, those details will deepen your knowledge of that culture.
Before I start with the topic of Japanese culture, I would like to share with you some observations of social nature. I believe that these comments can be of use to you since Japanese culture, like all Asian cultures in general, gives great importance to manners. Asian cultures are very formal and by following certain rules and customs you increase your chances of making a good deal. By ignoring those cultural details, it becomes more difficult for you to make a deal with Asian executives.
Now, going back to the main issue. The choice of restaurant where you plan on having lunch is essential. Bear in mind that the deal will most probably be sealed over a meal rather than at a formal meeting in the company. No matter how contradictory this may sound to you it is a known fact that in Asian cultures personal relations are highly valued. Asians like to do business with friends. In fact, if an Asian executive suggests going out for lunch that can be understood as a clear sign that he is interested in making a deal with you. This is the reason why it is so important to know how to behave in such situations.
Once you have chosen a good restaurant, It is time to be welcoming [with] your guests. In the restaurant, It is useful to know if your guests prefer to sit at a normal table, like Westerners do, or on the contrary, they prefer to be in a private room. From my point of view, the second option is probably the better one since during lunch you will discuss business.
Regarding the sitting position, you should observe how your guests sit. Here you should apply the Spanish saying ̎wherever you are do what others do ̎. Therefore, the best advice I can give you is that you imitate the ways of behavior you observe. In the restaurant, let your Asian guests take the initiative, allow them to choose their own seat. Nevertheless, do not forget that the chief of the delegation has to be seated as far as possible from the door.
Those of you who are not very skillful at using chopsticks, I recommend you take an intensive course to learn how to use them. I would like to spend more time on this part of my post since I have spotted some mistakes that people should avoid. I have noticed that when people sit down to eat the first thing they do is to take their chopsticks to play with them. You should bear in mind that chopsticks cannot be used to point at something, to play music as if they were drumsticks and, finally, you should not use chopsticks to scratch yourself. Do not forget that for Asian people chopsticks are the equivalent to cutlery for Westerners. Would you use a fork to scratch your back? I assume that the answer is not.
Another detail worth bearing in mind is that every time you finish your dish you have to leave your chopsticks together at one side of your plate. If your plate is a bowl, once you have finished eating put your chopsticks together at the edge of your bowl to signal the waiter that you have finished.
Regarding the desert there is a detail you should know: Asian people do not usually drink coffee. They prefer tea, preferably without sugar. We, Westerners, tend to sweeten our tea because in my view we make a direct association between tea and coffee. Nevertheless, the fact of sweetening the tea makes It more difficult to grasp its taste and its aroma. There is also a special Asian way of drinking tea׃ you hold the bowl with you right hand. Your right hand has to be at the side of the bowl and your left hand at the base of the bowl. Once you have the bowl in your hand you can start sipping the content.
Japanese people tend to sip the drop of the tea. That is, they make noise with the last drop. However, be careful. It is better not to abuse. It is about a sip and just one sip. While we are on the subject, another detail comes to my mind׃ you can find yourself in a situation in which your Asian guests make a lot of noise while they are eating. Stay calm. Asian people tend to make noise to acknowledge that what they are eating is tasty. It is their way of praising the Chef.
All in all, I would like to draw your attention to the importance of knowing other cultures and customs. If you want to make a deal with Japanese people and Asian businessmen as well, the knowledge of those details is even more important. That same knowledge will not only help you make a good deal but it will also allow you to enjoy that new experience to the maximum.