Omotenashi and the five senses- TOUCH

Omotenashi and the five senses

Omotenashi
and the five senses

Words: Yoshiko Arakawa, Translation: Heather Glass

In this feature we introduce you to the many different ways in which omotenashi style hospitality is extended and the things in which it is given form, to appeal to the senses through the eyes, ears and palate of a guest. We trust we will help you to savour the best of Japan’s omotenashi culture, by alerting you to watch out for, listen out for and hone your sensitivity to these almost imperceptible ministrations.


Touch

Oshibori and omotenashi

p12-omotenashi-touch

There is a traditional custom in Japan of serving guests with a refreshing hand towel, known as an oshibori.
The practice dates back to the Heian period, in the 8th to 12th centuries. A reference to oshibori in Japan’s oldest existing chronicle, the Kojiki, describes the custom of court nobles providing a moist cloth to guests invited to their home. By the Muromachi period in the 14th century, that had changed to a cotton towel, and it became the practice to place a wooden tub containing water and a hand towel for travellers at the entrance of taverns.

Guests would drench the hand towel and wipe their hands and feet clean. Travel at the time was on foot, and footwear was in the style seen in the samurai movies; straw sandals, so feet would get very dirty.
Before entering a room, travellers would soak the hand towel provided in water, wring it out and wipe their feet clean. Cleaning the body also relieved the spirit.

The action of wringing out the towel, or shiboru, is the source of the word oshibori.
After the passage of much time, during the postwar rebuilding of Japan, food outlets flourished and renting out oshibori emerged as a business. With subsequent development in the catering industry, systems of mass production came into being. In this way the oshibori, the first thing given to a customer as soon as they enter a restaurant in Japan, may be used with impunity, in the confidence that the oshibori is clean. In a rigorous system of managed reuse, only products that have been thoroughly washed, disinfected and inspected are shipped.

Before being given, in the hot summer the oshibori is completely chilled, while in the cold winter it is heated. Placed gently on the hand, the hot oshibori sends a blush of warmth to the skin and warms the heart, or cold, the thrill of cool quietens the heart.

The custom of oshibori has transformed over time, but exists in the present as an embodiment of the Japanese spirit of omotenashi. If you actually see oshibori in a Japanese restaurant, direct your thoughts to its history, take the oshibori given to you, wipe your hands, take a deep breath and feel yourself purified.

* Not every Japanese restaurant will provide oshibori.


Omotenashi and the five senses- SOUND

Omotenashi and the five senses

Omotenashi
and the five senses

Words: Yoshiko Arakawa, Translation: Heather Glass

In this feature we introduce you to the many different ways in which omotenashi style hospitality is extended and the things in which it is given form, to appeal to the senses through the eyes, ears and palate of a guest. We trust we will help you to savour the best of Japan’s omotenashi culture, by alerting you to watch out for, listen out for and hone your sensitivity to these almost imperceptible ministrations.


Sound

Sound and omotenashi

Historically the Japanese have come up with many ingenious ways to remain cool in summer. They have devised fans, bamboo blinds, the sprinkling of water – and wind chimes.
The wind chime, or furin, provides both a visual and an auditory means of creating a sense of coolness, and has been beloved of many for hundreds of years as a poetic evocation of summer.
When the cool, clear tinkling of the furin echoes through the air and reaches the ears of a guest, it tells them that a breeze has passed through. In this way, Japanese have of old created a pleasant atmosphere by transforming breeze to aural colour.

furin

Furin comes in many materials and timbres. There is the delicate tone of the tinkling Edo furin made of glass; the solid design and reverberating ding of the resonant Nanbu iron furin; the charcoal furin that promises cleaner air and the relaxing effect of negative ions; the ceramic furin with its characteristic dry, yet comforting sound;
the high-pitched, but still serene timbre of the brass furin that seeps into the body; the bamboo furin that evokes the ethnic sound of the gamelan or the xylophone – once begun, the list just keeps growing.
When the wind catches the strip of paper hanging from any of them and they sound freely with an irregular rhythm, the effect on the ear of the listener is an indescribable sense of relaxation. As the ears are cooled by the fluctuating, irregular, naturally generated rhythms, at a certain point the soul becomes calmer, and both mind and body are present and refreshed.


Omotenashi and the five senses- SIGHT

Omotenashi and the five senses

Omotenashi
and the five senses

Words: Yoshiko Arakawa, Translation: Heather Glass

In this feature we introduce you to the many different ways in which omotenashi style hospitality is extended and the things in which it is given form, to appeal to the senses through the eyes, ears and palate of a guest. We trust we will help you to savour the best of Japan’s omotenashi culture, by alerting you to watch out for, listen out for and hone your sensitivity to these almost imperceptible ministrations.


Sight

Japanese gardens and omotenashi

Among several traditional cultural forms, the sensitivity and feelings of the Japanese are skilfully expressed visually, and wonderfully presented to guests, in the world of the Japanese garden.

There is no single form of Japanese arden, but a variety of styles and types according to era. Large-scale gardens emerged in the Heian period, using lakes, trees and stones to achieve the palacestyle characteristic of the architecture of the era, while towards the end of the Heian period, the jodo style of garden emerged to express gokuraku jodo, or the Buddhist paradise, and is best represented by Byodoin Temple in Kyoto. In the samurai era karesansui dry landscape gardens were made in the style typified by the stone garden of Ryoanji Temple.

omotenashi

Each are Japanese gardens in different styles, but there is a common principle in their creation. The positioning of rocks, trees and water is not simply for beauty, but expresses the Japanese spiritual world. Ryoanji Temple typifies the karesansui style. The garden is an extremely simple space, with a scattering of 15 stones across a surface of plain white gravel in a narrow area only 25 metres wide and ten metres deep, but it unmistakably preserves its historical context, when Zen Buddhism was at its zenith. Where there is no water or lake, nor even trees, the spiritual world of the Japanese and their sense of the cosmos is skilfully expressed by the clever use of stones as the gardener’s material.

Expressed through the magical positioning of rocks, there are mountains and water flowing where in reality there can be none.

The subtle, profound and tranquil erspective on the world expressed in the Zen garden never fails to captivate the hearts of people from across and beyond Japan, even today. The technique used is called mitate, or likening something to something else by drawing a metaphorical comparison. It draws on the imagination of the recipient by expressing something that is not actually there, and in creating such a garden, what is therefore top of mind in planning every element is that viewer is moved by what they see.

The garden uses a total of 15 stones, but a unique feature of its design is that no matter the angle from which it is viewed, there is always one stone that is hidden and cannot be seen. In the Orient, the number 15 is a number that expresses perfection.

In other words, the design of the garden is expressing a state of imperfection and therefore holds within it a hidden message.

The viewer is being invited to take the opportunity to look deep within themselves and seek out that within that is lacking.

By seeming to draw an extension line to the imagination of the viewer, the creation of a Japanese garden is therefore indivisible from the principle of omotenashi, which is founded in a unique aesthetic and the
perspective of the spectator’s feelings. The visiting guest is quietly hosted therein.