Japan has a deep-rooted culture of looking after their guests with all their heart. The hospitality culture Omontenashi has its origin from the tea ceremony which is known as ‘Sado’ in Japanese. Omotenashi is a word that represents the country and the care they put in their hospitality without any expectations. Every traveller who visited Japan for once would have experienced the Omotenashi hospitality, especially during cultural events like the tea ceremony known as ‘Sado’, Japanese-style inns known as ‘Ryokan’ and the Japanese banquet known as ‘Kaiseki’.
It is hard to define Omotenashi in a word, as one has to experience Japan to understand it. It is a word that the Japanese use to describe their unique approach to hospitality. The custom was familiar only to travellers who have visited Japan. It became more popular in the rest of the world, after Christel Takigawa, the bid ambassador for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics campaign mentioned it in her address at the International Olympic Committee during the final stage of Tokyo’s successful bid. This incredible culture can be felt throughout Japan in local homestays, formal ceremonies, retail and dining.
The goodness of Omotenashi can be experienced by customer experience as they consider them much beyond than always right. A guest starts experiencing this warm hospitality at every doorway followed by hearing a bellowing welcome of ‘Irasshaimase’ and all they expect in return is a polite nod or smile. The famous Japanese tea ceremony, known as ‘Sado’ is one thing that reflects Omotenashi custom in its best. The guest will be considered the centre of every tea gathering, known as ‘Chakai’, and the host will take care of the guest with every movement and gesture.
The most important part of the Omotenashi culture is the bowl of tea that the host prepares for the guest with all their heart. The custom of Omotenashi is all about mastering the self to serve the guest, without expecting anything in return. At the heart of this custom is the host’s attention to detail, care in anticipating and acting on the needs of guests, without being able to do so. The custom of Omotenashi is established by Sen no Rikyu, who is the grandfather of the Japanese tea ceremony. He used to entertain his guests at home with the tea ceremony ‘Chakai’. As the experience of every ‘Chakai’ is considered once in a lifetime, the host and guest should take part in it with sincerity.
“Because life is full of uncertainty, one must engrave in his heart the events of the day as if there is no tomorrow. Today’s tea ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience, and one, along with his guests, must wholeheartedly approach the meeting with sincerity.” – this is a philosophy of Omotenashi that great tea master Sen no Rikyu left behind for the Japanese culture. The host has to make huge preparations to attain the sincerity for ensuring the most memorable experience for their guest.
According to the Japanese culture, the preparation for a single ‘Chakai’ may take up to a year, so that they can choose the right ingredients and dining ware and accessories that match the season and the preferences of the guest. The host will keep on searching until they find the perfect teacup for their guest. Japanese tea masters believe this to be the most difficult yet important part of the Omotenashi custom. It takes a lot of creativity and intellect to accomplish this process which also determines the successful fulfilment of the actual ceremony.
An important thing that distinguishes the Japanese hospitality in sectors like restaurants and hotels is that it is performed without any expectation of anything in return. There is no charge for Omotenashi and any tip for good service is not expected or appreciated. The hospitality in Omotenashi will not be as visible as service and is immeasurable. It doesn’t involve something that is intentionally done to make believe the guest or customer that they are being provided with a service. The host finding the perfect tea set for the guest is an example for the altruistic hospitality without any strings attached.
The custom of Omotenashi still relevant in modern times due to the importance is given by Japanese culture in propagating the way it influenced Japanese daily life. The custom has become established as a way of Japanese hospitality at home, restaurants and businesses.
According to the Omotenashi custom they promise to express the concept through every experience they offer for their guests to the fullest extent. Leading Japanese businesses like department store chain, Takashimaya and fashion retailer Uniqlo have been focusing on observing the values of Omotenashi even with very ambitious goals by providing excellent customer service daily.