Omotenashi: Why I Fell in Love with Japan

Hello! I hope everyone is staying safe during this coronavirus pandemic. While the quarantining and social distancing can be frustrating (no closure to my last semester of college?!),

it’s comforting to know that all these drastic measures are being taken to save our community.

24/7 all I hear about is the COVID-19 outbreak, and so while I could talk about the strength of community being demonstrated by college classes going virtual and the major sports leagues shutting down, I thought it’d be more refreshing to talk about community through a post I wrote months ago before all this happened, from the time when I came back from visiting Japan. Enjoy!

If there was such a thing as a perfect country, it would be Japan.

The food is amazing… but I’ve experienced amazing food in other countries too.

The places are beautiful… but so are places in other countries.

The thing that sets Japan apart from any other country I’ve been to, the reason that Japan needs to be on everyone’s bucket list can be summed up in one word.

Omotenashi.

It’s a Japanese word that essentially translates to Japanese hospitality. It dwells on the concept of treating a guest’s every need, taking care of things before being asked to, and ultimately delivering the best possible service without the expectation of receiving something in return. Omotenashi is a key element of the Japanese culture; it endorses the idea of serving genuinely from the bottom of your heart.

And it really shows.

You experience it, I kid you not, from the moment you land in the Tokyo airport. Every employee treats you with so much respect and it’s just so many little things, constantly  going the extra mile, that really add up to produce a big effect.

For example, when we picked up our luggage from baggage claim, all of our suitcases were grouped together on the carousel. Omotenashi. We  conveniently grabbed all the suitcases at once, and we were off.

My family had to use the restroom. You enter, and all the toilets are bidets; they even have a music button to play waterfall sounds in your stall for privacy. Omotenashi.

My dad and I are buying subway tickets, and obviously we are slower in buying the tickets compared to the average commuter. We have to make sure we click the English button, and carefully read our options, etc. Well, on multiple occasions, amidst the crowded buzzing subway station, someone has come over to us offering to help. This is not because they’re waiting in line behind us! A man literally helped us buy tickets faster (we weren’t even asking for help), and after our tickets shot out of the machine, he left to head over to his subway. Omotenashi.

We stayed at multiple 3-star hotels, and every day the hotel room had all the amenities you could think of. The large water bottles that are usually a $5 extra charge in US hotels were for free. Sitting in the bathroom was a free toothbrush, hairbrush, razor, etc. for every guest. One hotel even provided nightclothes! I know hotels often have extra bathroom essentials, but you normally have to call the front desk and ask for it. Not in Japan. They already provide you with everything they think you might need. Omotenashi.

Tipping is frowned upon, because again that would be going against the whole mantra of genuine honest service. They serve well because they want to, not for tips. Omotenashi.

In a country where I couldn’t read anything or speak the language, I didn’t feel the least bit anxious, because honestly I was surrounded by a group of people that really gave their 110% if sought after for help. I remember asking the tourist information desk directions to a cool clock I had seen online. “Oh that’s right in front of this station, just walk out straight, you’ll see it!” We walked out a gate, but didn’t see it. I went back to the desk to confirm we went through the right gate. This time the employee left the desk and personally walked me all the way to the clock. At this point, I wasn’t even surprised. Going the extra mile is simply their way of life. And it’s absolutely amazing. Omotenashi.

Almost 1 in 4 people are wearing masks to cover their mouth. Probably to prevent themselves from getting sick but also to prevent others from getting sick from them. Omotenashi. Every restaurant gave us wet wipes because after your hands get all sticky and gross, you obviously would prefer a wet wipe over just a dry napkin. Omotenashi.

But what’s the biggest lesson Japan taught me?

Lead a beautiful life that leaves people wanting to learn more about you and your background. No one in Japan explicitly told me about omotenashi. I learned about it because I noticed one day how all the taxi drivers in Japan wore suits. I was intrigued by this level of classiness, and decided to google in my hotel room, “why do taxi drivers wear suits in Japan?” And immediately an article came up describing it as a way of omotenashi. Only then did it hit me that my family wasn’t the only one who felt a special welcome from Japanese people. There’s an actual word for what we’ve been experiencing!

But my point is you don’t have to explicitly share your culture to educate others. Actions speak loudly.  Your culture and background inevitably shines through your personality because it’s part of your identity. Don’t just tell people about the differences in your background, beliefs and identity, but instead be the greatest person you can be that leaves people wanting to ask and learn more about who you are. That’s how we should be educating each other about different cultures across the world.

Japan’s got it figured out. Like I said, if there was such thing as a perfect country, it would be Japan.

Japan has my heart.

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