Land of the Rising Sun: Omotenashi and the Culture of Japanese Hospitality


A staff member greets visitors at a Pachinko park in Ginzaflickr: JAPANKURU

The arch is at the very heart of social interaction in Japan. Used in business meetings, at the end of classes, and even to say goodbye on the phone, the bow is known to everyone around the world as a unique aspect of Japanese culture. But the bow has much more meaning than the equivalent of a handshake: it is a symbol of omotenashi which refers to the world of Japanese hospitality.

Japan’s high quality service is something that is marketed heavily to tourists and is certainly not hard to miss. Unlike the UK where, with the exception of that occasional talkative Sainsbury’s cashier, customer expectations are generally about the nature of the service, in Japan this does not appear to be the case. While hospitality is a common experience in any expensive airplane or restaurant in the world, this level of service is often extended as far as the konbini (convenience stores) or even your local McDonald’s. Being served in any establishment often implies a warm welcome and being served in keigo, honorific language. Whether it’s an expensive antique or a water bottle, your purchase is carefully packaged, and in some konbini we even greet you with a humble reverence. In other words, a much more elaborate experience down to the monotonous “do you want your receipt”.

In many ways omotenashi has the positive results it is supposed to generate. While perhaps subconscious, a brilliant or polite interaction is a reminder of the humanity behind an otherwise mundane situation, so on some level, it’s understandably pleasurable to experience it where and when you are. shop in Japan. In fact, there are certain jobs whose purpose seems to simply be to post omotenashi on behalf of the company in question, instead of primarily making the work process more efficient. Train attendants who stand up and repeat ‘Thank you very much in Japanese ‘ as each passenger passes through the barriers, the traffic cops guiding cars through practically empty streets and the clerks who greet you and beckon you at the doors of museums are some of the positions that come to mind in mind. There is something indescribably inspiring about a stranger who seems genuinely happy to welcome you to their establishment. They seem proud of their work and happy to be where they are, even if they work konbini night shift in a quiet street where there are rarely customers. And yet, when considered on a deeper level, these types of interactions may not be as satisfying as they initially seem.

No one appreciates unnecessarily rude waiters, which is why foreigners often welcome Japanese hospitality when traveling here. But when you step back from a client’s position and look at the situation from the server’s point of view, maybe a omotenashi it’s a little rougher around the edges is better. Work life can be tough, and although Londoners constantly complain about sulky bus drivers when they come to the office, they are likely to feel sympathy and even a kind of solidarity as well. Developing a career is an important part of life, and stress is an inevitable part of the journey. Still, just because it’s a common experience, the attitude of “smiling and putting up with it” at all costs is somewhat ludicrous. Indeed, stumbling upon a somewhat dismal server at 2 a.m. in a local konbini would be a more human interaction in some ways. Of course, that doesn’t mean to avoid applying yourself to your job, but there’s nothing wrong with accepting that there are days when you feel good about yourself. his responsibilities, and there are days when everything can be too heavy. In the Japanese working world, the room to display boredom or lack of enthusiasm is more difficult to find. Omotenashi could be considered more important for training an employee than teaching basic skills such as how to work as a cashier; many companies carefully train new staff to bow in the right way, for example.

Not only does this limit the emotions of the worker in the workplace, it also creates a barrier between the server and the client. While at first glance highly polite treatment of a client seems appropriate, the gap it creates can be somewhat alienating in our busy and sometimes lonely modern lives. This leads to the cultural phenomenon of tatemae (his social facade) and honest (his true feelings). The importance of tatemae in Japanese social life can make it difficult to socialize and analyze interactions, and this is also true of server-client communications.

Ultimately, the debate on the effects of Japan’s high standard hospitality depends on how we define service. In the age of individualism and the growth of alienating social media that is now at the heart of human communication, politeness and ritual are not what people demand. Human interaction, even with a touch of frankness, is preferable to interaction that is too honorific and impersonal for fear of embarrassing the person receiving. Omotenashi certainly shows respect for the customer, but maybe it is time to respect the emotional needs of the workers


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