Understanding Omotenashi: Uncovering the Key to Japanese Hospitality

An Integral Part of the Japanese Service Industry

You might think “What is Omotenashi?”. With the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics rapidly approaching the word “Omotenashi” is being used by the media a lot more to promote Japanese hospitality. The meaning of Omotenashi goes way deeper than just providing outstanding hospitality as the original meaning is to entertain guests wholeheartedly.
One only needs to reside in Japan for a short time to realize just how much attention to detail is paid across many sectors of the service industry. The Japanese proverb 「お客様きゃくさま神様かみさま」(okyakusama wa kamisama) can be translated to “the customer is always right” but many in Japan will prefer the literal translation of “the customer is god”.
The extent of this sentiment is highlighted in the service industry, when the sales associates address the customer by adding the honorific “O” and “-sama” to the beginning and end of kyaku (customer)respectively.


Some examples of the Omotenashi that you might experience in Japan are. A taxi driver automatically opens and closes the door for their passengers. A toothpick nicely wedged between the indentation of a pair of wooden chopsticks. Even the umbrella and bag holders placed within hand’s reach at a Japanese ATM. The cleaners of the Shinkansen, bowing to the passengers as they rush to clean the cars is also a famous expression of Omotenashi.

How did Omotenashi come about?

Visiting a Japanese department store opening in the morning is a ceremonial experience displaying Omotenashi at its finest. Every staff bows as you enter. The Japanese sense of hospitality is exemplified by a deeply rooted pride and effort in welcoming visitors to one’s business. Many historians trace the roots of Omotenashi all the way back to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
The word is most often written in hiragana because there are several ways of writing it with kanji. On one hand omote would derive from the 表 character referring to a surface or carrying of something, while the 成 character consists of the meanings less or to accomplish something.
Therefore, if the Japanese exhibit exquisite Omotenashi, they are expected to provide a service without expecting anything in return.
On the other hand, Omotenashi would come from the verb “motsu”, 「つ」,  “to have”:


「おし」. (omotenashi)
親切しんせつおもてなしを、ありがとうございました。(shinsetsuna omotenashi o, arigatōgozaimashita)
– Thank you for your kind hospitality.
こころづくしのおもてなし感謝かんしゃします。(kokoro-zukushi no omotenashi o kansha shimasu)
– Thank you very much for your hearty hospitality.


Finally, among the aspects that define Omotenashi, selflessness and anticipation are easy to highlight. The concept is all about offering the best service without the expectation of a reward. You abandon your interest for the benefit of your guest or your customer. That explains why in Japan, the culture of tipping is not the norm. Last but not least, a core idea of Omotenashi is to anticipate the needs of your guest. One of the best example is the water and the hot towel brought to you as you take your seat in a restaurant.
To find out more about Japanese honorifics, check out this page.
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