Readers are no doubt aware that in 2020 Tokyo will host the summer Olympics and the 16th Paralympics. A range of initiatives are being taken in Japan to prepare to welcome guests from all around the world. At the same time, the word of omotenashi, which is used to express Japan’s own unique brand of hospitality now draws attention from Japanese people.


Traditionally the Japanese have extolled a tranquil demeanour, in which it is natural to be grateful every day, to love one’s home town, to be friends with neighbours in a spirit of mutual assistance, to be respectful of the elderly, to demonstrate love and affection for children, and to live each day politely. It is not necessary that a person’s way of life or their daily doings be ostentatious;
the true worth and joy of living are given expression in the ability to grow together by relating to those around with sincerity and sensitivity.
This spirit of mutual help of course extends also to travellers, but for visitors from outside Japan, there are some aspects that no doubt invoke curiousity.
In this edition of jStyle we explore the nature of Japanese omotenashi and the experiences it may enhance.

So just what is

Words: Yoshiko Arakawa, Translation: Heather Glass

If you look up the word omotenashi in the dictionary, you will find these definitions.

1. treatment of a guest, reception
2. delicacies served to a guest, hospitality
3. behaviour toward people and things, attitude
4. treatment of things, or arrangements, management
5. physical demeanour, carriage

omotenashiOmotenashi derives from a combination of the words for ‘hold’ (motte) and‘accomplish’ (nasu). Traditionally, at its core were personal behaviour – expressed as carriage or demeanour – accommodation of another – evident in attitude or behaviour, arrangements and management – and adornment – apparent in usage of things, or treatment. To these has been added the element of serving delicacies to another, rounding out the total concept of omotenashi. Omotenashi is characterised by selfless action that does not seek return; it is behavior that is not two-faced. The custom of tipping, for example, never used to exist in Japan.
From before the days when service became business, the spirit of omotenashi flourished as something founded in the spirit of rendering service. It was seen in hosting someone in the beauty and discipline of the tea ceremony, or in pilgrimage, as epitomised by those who engage in the ascetic practice of traversing the spiritual spaces of the 88 Buddhist temples of Shikoku.

By its nature, omotenashi is definitely not extravagant. If anything, its virtue is in hospitality that is fitted to size, and more than anything, is heartfelt. The aesthetic that supports it, of necessity, does not require magnificence, but a wabi sabi beauty that incorporates within it the iridescence and changing of the seasons, comfortable space that may be confined and plain, but in which there is communion, and an incomplete beauty that is nevertheless suggestive of completeness.

Examples are a perfectly groomed garden shown at its best by the scattering of fallen leaves, or an umbrella left quietly beside an entrance by a host for their guest.

Imperceptible as such actions may seem, they are guided by an aesthetic that communicates caring. To notice these ministrations, it is appropriate for both host and the recipient of omotenashi to prepare a degree of latitude in their souls, and above all else to hold purity and innocence in their hearts.

The culture of omotenashi was created from a blending of the uniquely Japanese attention to detail, with tradition and culture from a long history within which there have been many changes, but at its core is the desire to bestow care and consideration on another.

Hidden within omotenashi is an ideology;
the ancient Japanese belief that no matter the brevity of an encounter, it is an isolated moment in time that will never be repeated. This concept has been honoured and preserved into the modern day in sayings such as ichi go ichi e (one occasion, one encounter), and sode fureau mo tashou no en (even the brushing of sleeves is karma).

It may be that this honouring of the moment in which people come together as something rare and strangely precious that happens just once in a lifetime, the desire to make that encounter a wonderful, unparalleled experience, and holding in affection that ideology and conduct, together constitute the Japanese philosophy that is at the root of the spirit of omotenashi.


Omotenashi spirit is deeply connected to Japanese mentality, values and culture, but sometimes the Japanese social norm may seem unusual in the eyes of visitors from outside Japan. So we asked five Australians to share their Japanese experiences and discoveries. We asked them three questions.
What is Japanese hospitality? What impressed them the most?
Where do they recommend to go to enjoy Japanese hospitality?
Join us as we dig deep into omotenashi.


Courtesy of a taxi driver

When I hear the word “hospitality”, I remember the taxi driver I met at the very beginning of my life in Tokyo back in 2011. Upon arrival at Narita Airport, I had to go to the other terminal to transfer. So I took a taxi, and asked the driver to go to Terminal #1. However, he mistook it for Terminal #2; maybe it was because of a language barrier, I guess. When the car arrived at the wrong terminal, I noticed
the misunderstanding and explained to him that I needed to go to Terminal #1, not #2.
When he realised what had just happened, he stopped the fare meter and sent me to the right terminal without charging for the additional ten minutes. I was very impressed by his attitude.
In any other countries, you can’t expect such politeness from taxi drivers.


Little things made a big difference

To me the biggest omotenashi experience I had in Japan was at a traditional Japanese ryokan inn in Kusatsu, where the staff and owners really made sure the stay was a pleasant vacation. There wasn’t one
large thing they did that made it go over the top, but rather the combination of tens of smaller things that made the entire experience great. From turning your shoes around for you in the genkan entrance to bringing out your futon bedding while you were having dinner and the ‘welcome home’ feeling you got after coming back from a stroll in the shopping district.
They really strive for the entire package experience to be perfect, and that’s what makes the quality of service in Japan better than the rest of the world.


My Spectacular Time in Japan

During my eight years stay in Tokyo, I realised how obedient, polite and hard working the people in Japan are. I attended shogakko, or primary school, where they taught me a lot of things, but the most important of all was how to be obedient and stay calm in difficult situations. That really helped me when the major earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011. Amongst the places I visited, I definitely recommend the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, the Kinkakuji Golden Temple in Kyoto and the Sky Tree in Tokyo.
For children like we were, Disney Resort is not be missed. Japan is a beautiful and peaceful country and people are very kind and courteous to both adults and kids. The places I had visited, the food I had tasted, or the seasons I had experienced in Japan – I will cherish every memory.


Try Small Restaurants, Enjoy Communications!

Every time I am in Japan, I am always so delighted by the quality and service at the smaller restaurants. The staff of my favourite restaurant, Kushiya, in Tokyo, treat me and their customers like family. They welcome you with a boisterous “Irrashaimase!” upon entering, and the ojichan who is the master chef, while cooking was always keen to chat with travellers. Sometimes the obachan, who is the hostess would be giving me some omake, or little extras, just to make sure I was eating healthily. At the end of the night, they both wish you a good night and safe travels from out the front of their restaurant and are eager to see you again soon. When you are in Japan, don’t hesitate to go into the smaller, family run restaurants, order the omakase chef’s special and you never know, you might just meet your new extended family, like I did.


Hospitality is a work ethic of Japan

Japan is a very hospitable country where I always feel welcomed. I think hospitality is a part of Japanese culture. As I started working with Japanese people, I began to understand the Japanese work ethic. They have high morals and strong loyalties to their jobs, regardless of their positions. For example, I recall the moment when I was at a register in a supermarket. The cashier tried so hard to scan all the groceries as quickly as possible, since there was a long queue behind me. I appreciated her, but I thought if it had been a supermarket in Australia, she would have been more relaxed. Japanese politeness and persistence for perfection sometimes may look too serious to Australian eyes, but it is actually their way to express their gratitude for your visit.