Omotenashi or Overkill?

A while back I had the honor of speaking for a group of ladies at the Kamakura YMCA who fancy English and the opportunity to improve their listening and speaking skills. They asked me to prepare a presentation about omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) from the non-Japanese perspective. I had a great time researching the topic and trying to come up images and descriptions with what I consider the true meaning of this now trendy term. I think part of the reason Japan works so well and is such a wonderful place to live and visit is the effort everyone makes to please and assist others, all part of omotenashi.  And the vision of a woman swishing down a narrow hallway in a chic kimono, tray of tea and sweets in hand, melts my heart. And don’t get me started on how polite and helpful one finds the staff at a Japanese MacDonald’s. That said, it drives me nuts when the waitress literally runs when I ask for a bit of ketchup, or bows and apologies rather aggressively when they don’t have any ketchup!

In the end, this wonderful group of English fans taught me that, until Christel Takigawa and the Japanese Olympic bid made the term omotenashi nearly ubiquitous, it was never a topic of discussion. Omotenashi was, and still is, the little things you do quite naturally to make sure your guest (be it a visitor to your home or a customer in your shop) feel comfortable and well-taken care of.

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