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Omotenashi: The spirit of Japanese hospitality

Of all the memories they take home with them, visitors to Japan cherish and appreciate the ‘Japanese way of hospitality and customer service’ -- Omotenashi in Japanese.

Translated simply, Omotenashi means the Japanese way of treating a guest. It blends a welcoming spirit with warmth, understanding, and above all respect. The concept is all encompassing.

Etymologically, Omotenashi is a hybrid of “omote” (surface) and “nashi” (less), concepts that translate together into “single-hearted.” From the perspective of a host, this is the rendering of service without expectation of favor or reward.

Interestingly, the Japanese language makes no distinction between ‘guest’ and ‘customer.’ In English, the concept of ‘service’ suggests a hierarchy between the ‘server’ and the ‘customer.’ The Japanese Omotenashi, however, is based on a non-dominant relationship between equals – between the person offering the service (the host) and the person receiving it (the guest or customer).

To practice Omotenashi, the host pays close attention to detail and is committed to anticipating the needs of the guest, smiling sincerely and setting a happy, relaxed mood. When authentic, Japanese hospitality and service exceed the expectations of the guests. At its most exquisite, Omotenashi offers a guest a once-in-a-life-time experience. The idea resonates with Ichigo-ichie, the tea master’s belief that every encounter is single and unique.

In form, Omotenashi may be governed by precise written rules describing how the host should compose herself or himself in front of the customer. Yet true Omotenashi can never be attained with a manual alone. It is a one-to-one relationship that changes from customer to customer, from moment to moment. Gratitude towards the customer is a key part of Omotenashi, the part that warms the encounter and makes the host smile.

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