Friday, February 24, 2012

Required Facilities for Opening a Food Business in Japan

Recently I've picked up my investigations into what kind of paper trail will be required in the opening of a small cafe/cake shop business in Tokyo. Each ward office has their own system, but by all accounts they are quite similar. I'm currently thinking it's likely I'll open up shop in Minato-ku, and so this post will look at the requirements laid out by the Minato-ku ward office in Daimon.

There are lots of fantastic areas in Minato-ku which would suit this kind of business - like Nishi Azabu, Azabu Juban, Minami Aoyama - and it would have the added advantage of coming under the jurisdiction of the same ward office as my residence. This might seem like a strange consideration, but since much of the paperwork involved in applying for and updating various certificates and permits, for private as well as business reasons, needs you to be physically present at the ward office... well, it'd be nice if I don't need to schlep from Daimon to Shibuya for example on a regular basis to process papers. And there is a kafkaesque amount (did I just write that?) of paperwork in Japan. To illustrate this, I came across this company who, in the interests of persuading you to contract their services, did a nifty little comparision of the required time and form-filling for setting up a business in Seattle vs. Tokyo. (21 forms versus 2 forms, people!) 

Ok plunging right in, here is the Minato ward office's "opening a new business" /  新規開店のとき page in Japanese, showing the procedure for applying to start a food business.

Roughly translated, once you've found your premises and before you do any building work, you're supposed to make an appointment with your local health centre / 保健所 / hokensho (for me it's the Minato hokensho seikatsu eisei centre / みなと保健所生活衛生センター) to look at a detailed plan / 平面図 you have prepared of your space and receive advice on anything that looks like it might need amending to pass the inspection. You'll be given a pack of documents containing your application form-filling mission.

You're to return the completed forms at least 7-10 days before your desired inspection date. When they carry out your inspection, the inspector will check that the property fits the details on your application, and that the health and safety requirements are met. You'll need your company stamp for your permit if you pass the inspection. I'm not clear whether you get the permit right away then, or whether there is further processing past that point.

The documents listed in the table on the Minato ward office page are as follows:
  • 営業許可申請書(1通) / Application for business permit (x1)
  • 営業設備の大要(2通) / Summary of required facilities (x2)
  • 許可申請手数料 Application handling fee (14,000 JPY for a confectionery business + 16,000 JPY if you are also a cafe/restaurant type space),
  • 登記事項証明書(1通) / Official copy of "certificate of registered matters" for your company (x1, less than 6-months old. Not clear at the moment if this is your incorporation certificate or a different one.)
  • 水質検査成績書 / Certificate of water hygiene inspection test (less than 1-year old, copy ok)
  • 食品衛生責任者の資格を証明するもの/ Certificate of designated food hygiene manager (copy ok)
Examples of the Japanese application forms can be found here. I presume these are the documents you get in your welcome pack at your first health centre meeting. 

The most complicated of the application forms is the "summary of required facilities" 営業設備の大要 (pdf) which looks like a check list that shows you are prepared from a health and safety view point. I had a go at translating it to English, here you go. (pdf)
Click to go to the pdf
When I do make an information-gathering trip to the health centre (done! read my post here), I'm going to see if they have official versions in English (nope), and whether they have a list of requirements, such as "toilet areas need to be ...metres away from food preparation areas" rather than leaving it for me to find out after making the plan that I needed another door, or another few metres.

I watched a film at last year's TIFF, called "A Better Life" (Une Vie Meilleure) where the characters cut corners and failed the inspection, leading to tragedy after tragedy as they spiralled into debt. Not worried at all.. no.. :)

It must be quite a nice job though, to be an inspector of new businesses just before they open. I'm sure you'd meet so many hopeful new business owners, eager to get started. I wonder though, if the rule among inspectors, like the inspectors who came to check the condition of my flat before I moved, is to be intimidating? Have you had an inspector experience for opening a business in Japan, or anywhere else? How were they, and did you pass? Or are you a premises inspector with tales of ridiculous lack of preparedness and ensuing tears?


  1. AnonymousJune 11, 2012

    Thank you so much for this information. Currently looking at doing similar activity.

  2. That's so exciting to hear! Best of luck with your plans, and let us know how it goes!