Thursday, June 12, 2014

The hokenjyo health inspection for business permits

Finally, after a few visits to consult with the local health department on the minutiae of their requirements, officially submitting my application and paying for the permits a few weeks earlier, the day of the hokenjyo/health department inspection arrived! (This is another of the catch-up posts I'd been planning to get around to for a few weeks now...)

Paying for biz permits at the health dept.

I had spent some time getting to know the lady who would be carrying out the inspection, and through a few enquiries learning what she would be paying attention to, only to find that with the inspection being around the end of the financial year in April she would be transferring departments and a completely new person would be attending my inspection! Ah well.

The days leading up to the inspection were busy, and a certain level of construction was completed on time, with cosmetic additions to be completed later. It was a particularly busy time for construction-related parties and the health department itself, as from April 2014 the VAT amount in Japan increased from 5% to 8%.. In practical terms this meant that places like tile companies in Japan had run out of stock (people paid upfront in March for jobs planned in the upcoming months to save money on the increased tax), and Tokyo Gas were backed up in a similar way with new businesses wanting their gas connections opened and businesses up and running before the tax hike.

Another surprise slight inconvenience was the last-minute scrabble to get a locker to put the cleaning equipment in. After trying to order a cheaper, second-hand locker I ended up paying too much to get a new one from the Askul office supplies service, just so I would have a locker for certain by the time of the inspection. It's a bit big really..

I probably needn't have worried too much however, as the inspection itself went very smoothly. I guess it might depend on who you have doing the check, and perhaps the size and nature of your business, but it was all quite quick really.

The lady who came was mainly concerned to know whether anything had changed from the plans I had consulted about with her predecessor, aside from which she noted that the fridge and freezers indeed had temperature monitors, that the floor was washable, the toilet was far enough from the kitchen and that the kitchen was divided clearly from the customer space. She also checked how many exits there were to the property and said that the low glass partition that had been held up at the workshop for tax-increase related reasons definitely needed to be in place as soon as possible. This didn't impede me being granted the business permissions however, I was given the license numbers on the day, and was to pick up the actual certificate a week or so later at the health centre.

I say "permissions" in plural, as it turned out that I needed to apply and pay for two separate licenses, as I planned to do internet sales (which required a confectioner's 菓子製造業許可 / kashi seizougyou kyoka license) and occasional bakery (which required a cafe/restaurant license / 飲食店営業許可 / inshokuten eigyou kyoka). Incidentally, I checked specifically, and the baking school part of the business didn't actually require a business permit… interesting! Applying for these business permits cost 16,000 and 14,000 yen each.

One thing that I'd consulted about in advance was regarding whether or not we needed to 'raise the floor' in the kitchen, meaning building a type of stage, under which a drain could be plumbed in to allow for a wet-space and thorough mopping. Larger businesses and those doing a lot of frying, working with oil and so on usually require such a floor drain (they are usually designed in Japan as a drain in a long strip down the middle of the floor.

My business was deigned to be light-capacity and so a floor-draining wet kitchen wasn't required, as long as the floor covering for the kitchen itself was water-tight vinyl or some similar durable and washable substance. Raising the floor would have added at least a hundred thousand yen to the construction budget, so this was lucky! I did however choose to fit a small grease trap. For my light-capacity business type it wasn't strictly necessary, but I wanted to get along with my neighbours and that means not blocking up community drains and causing a stink.

There was a little discussion about when to pick up the permit, when it would need to be renewed and re-inspected, and also something regarding an Azabu initiative against gangs involving displaying a "No! to gangs!" type sticker on the premises. Apart from that, it seems that the health inspection isn't quite as big and scary as I had imagined it might be.

I feel that if you consult with them well previously and make sure you cover the non-negotiable requirements (size and number of sinks along with their individual taps with hot and cold water, separation of customer space and kitchen space) and prepare in good faith, you'll probably be fine.

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