Your Friend in Japan

Service in Japan, and Why it’s Awesome

Written by HotAnime

Service In Japan Oshibori Hot Towel

I’m a huge fan of the outstanding service in Japan which you experience in most any business you enter. There’s even a word for the outstanding attitude toward service in Japan, omotenashi, which can be translated as “the total subjugation of one’s self in order to provide the ultimate service for a guest.” The term became something of a billboard for the upcoming Olympics when Japanese TV announcer Christel Takigawa (who is half French) used it while making her successful pitch for Tokyo’s 2020 bid.

Here are some ways Japan’s service is outstanding…

  • The word for customer and guest are the same (okyakusama), and they’re universally greeted with the word irasshaimase, meaning, “Welcome to our store!” These words always make me feel more welcome when visiting a business.
  • When you enter a restaurant you’ll generally be handed a steaming hot towel (called oshibori), and nothing feels better than cleaning your hands (and face, which is bad manners but everyone does it) with it.
  • To call the wait staff over, you usually push a button on your table, which allows the staff to see that you need help and come over immediately.
  • When you make a purchase in a shop, many times the sales staff will walk it out to your car for you. Sometimes — my sales rep at the local Mazda dealer goes this — they take it even further, bodily walking out into the road to halt traffic for you as you drive off.
  • In some restaurants you can just say omakase de, and they’ll basically make whatever is fresh that day and serve it to you. This requires trust that the food will be good (and not too exotic for foreigners’ palettes), and that the price will be reasonable. But I find I’m never let down.
  • Amazingly, there’s no tipping in Japan.

If you watched the anime Hanasaku Iroha, about what goes on behind the scenes at a traditional Japanese inn, you’ll know something of the intensity with which the staff takes treating every aspect of the guest’s experience. The head of a Japanese inn is the okami, and I happened to catch a TV show about the rigorous training young girls hoping to enter this field had to go through, attending a special school in Kyoto for a year, incidentally giving up the use of their cell phone for the entire training period. I could never do it.

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