2020 olympics

Kansai & its 'OMOTENASHI Meter'

4:49 PM



What is ‘Omotenashi Meter’?

'Omotenashi' was a part of the campaign used by Japan during their presentation for the 2020 Olympics. It was based on the excellence of Japanese customer service, and while it’s pretty good, it can also be pretty lacking in certain places. 

This meter is my way of rating the customer service level (out of 5 stars) of various attractions and sightseeing spots in Kansai Japan from the lens of someone who is not Japanese (and does not work for the tourism bureau). It’s based on my personal experience with the staff, the availability of information in other languages, accessibility price and transport wise, and other common tenets of CS.

That's the short version, if you're interesting in the ideas and concepts of 'Omotenashi' you can venture beyond the cut, but I'm warning you, it gets a little abstract (read: rambly) at times. Oops.


Sweet! You made it past the cut! Welcome to the world of my thought process. I tried to simplify my feelings toward omotenashi into short sections, but... well, to be quite honest, I'm not a social scientist and this is really just how I feel about the whole business. Anyway, carry on.
The Background on Omotenashi

The literal definition of 'omotenashi', as written in Jim Breen's WWWJDIC, is
hospitality, reception, treatment, service, entertainment. In other words, it is the treatment of customers that may also include special services (freebies!!1), it is Japanese customer service. I've read on some other sites that origin of the word denotes a relationship of equals, meaning that the customer or guest is being treated as an equal by those providing the service. While this could have been the case many years ago, based on interactions I've observed during my time in Japan, this doesn't seem to be the case so much anymore. In modern Japan, I think 'omotenashi' only differs from Western customer service in how much further they may try to go with their customer service.

A common example of 'omotenashi' in Japan can be seen in many salons throughout Japan (not every salon). While waiting to see the stylist, or even during your appointment, they will often offer a drink and snack, free of charge. To many non-Japanese, this is quite the pleasant surprise and often elicits a higher level of customer satisfaction. But to the Japanese, or anyone who has been in Japan for significant amount of time, it's just another day at a business. And while it is a plus, it might be a cover for the fact that a trip to the salon that was 1.5 to 2 hours max in the States, is now a 4+ hour affair (trust me on this one). Obviously, this is just one instance, but I feel like it offers the clearest example of the possible pros and cons of 'omotenashi'.

And while for the most part, I enjoy the concept of 'omotenashi', I can't help but feel like it is very closely tied to the concept of 'tatemae'.

The literal translation of 'tatemae' is face, official stance, public position or attitude (as opposed to private thoughts). I often compare it to the idea of 'lip service' in America, though where in the States we consider lip service to be a mostly negative thing (or, at least, I do), 'tatemae' is just there, and always in effect. I think a good example of tatemae would be the sentiment of 'Your Japanese is really good!" Any non-Japanese with a proficient level of Japanese has heard this phrase before, despite only uttering the word 'Arigato' or 'Sumimasen' and I'm almost certain it doesn't actually reflect how they really feel about your Japanese, it just part of the auto-response that comes with 'tatemae'. It's politeness with the bonus of a compliment, so you can see how this concept lends itself so well to the idea of 'omotenashi' as well. If you're already providing lip service as part of your daily life, taking that next step with 'omotenashi' doesn't seem so, well, special.

Should we all 'Omotenashi'?

To simplify it, 'tatemae' is equal to regular old Western customer service, a little lip service with a smile, while 'omotenashi' would be that leveled up version of Western customer service that comes with a cup of tea.

Now, I'm neither for nor against these concepts (perhaps I'm just used to that reg Western CS and don't need the extra bells and whistles), however, being exposed to 'tatemae' and 'omotenashi' all the time does make you wonder how people really feel. I have friends here in Japan that I still have request that they 'Shojiki ni itte" which translates to "tell me how you really feel". This is important if you're buying a dress that actually makes you look terrible (never depend on the shop staff's opinion) or if you're potentially dragging them to a restaurant they didn't want to visit in the first place. I worked many years in retail and food services, and always thought the best part of my customer service was the ability to be honest with all the services provided, basically just treating them the same way I'd like to be treated (even if they're weren't the nicest of people).

Also, if people are always saying what they think you want to hear, just when do you get to hear how they really feel (and how do you know that's how they really feel)? And can bottling up that expression that lead to more dangerous outlets of expression or perhaps to an even more dangerous feeling on apathy towards everything (as is seen with young Japanese interest in their country's politics)?

I've heard that conflict breeds creativity (or intimacy), so I suppose a complete aversion conflict breeds a perceived sense of community, each with it's appropriate set of pros and cons.

Ugh, why can't human existence be simpler. Some amalgamation of these two would be great. For us all, even.

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