Work in Japan Advice Board
Japanese omotenashi – Volume 1
Perhaps you have noticed that recently, the word omotenashi has been used more and more often.
Now, I would like to write a few pieces on the way it made me feel when I came across it.
While many non-Japanese praise omotenashi as an important part of the way Japanese culture came to be, many Japanese are left with the feeling “Huh? I had no idea”.
I once read somewhere that the roots of omotenashi date back 400 years ago, when Japan went through the “Edo Period”.
Although I’m sure many of you already knew this, Edo is the former name of Tokyo and represents a time that bloomed a lot of popular culture today. In the past, Kyoto was the administrative heart of Japan. From there, many shogun opened up Edo, people gathered in the area and culture began to thrive.
When many people come together in a small space, ways of thinking such as “I will try not to pose a nuisance to others” or “Let’s all live in a positive environment” start to appear. This seems to be connected to omotenashi. The behaviours that came about in this period are referred to as “Edo Shigusa”.
The most recognizable elements of this include kasa kashige and shichisan no michi.
Kasa kashige – Leaning your umbrella to one side when walking past someone.
Shichisan no michi – Only using 30% of the road when walking to allow those who are in a hurry an easy passage.
But I digress.
I have realized a few “unknown omotenashi” recently, of which I would like to introduce 2.
1. The Leaning Bus
In Japan, when a bus comes to a halt at a bus stop the exit side lowers. Did you realize this? Air is released from the air suspension; the left side of the bus lowers and getting off/on is made a lot more comfortable. When the bus starts moving again, it is returned to a flat state.
2. Stands for Umbrellas in Public Bathrooms
First, let me apologize for a slightly rough story. When going to a men’s bathroom at a train station, there is a small hook next to the urinal. When going to the bathroom on a rainy day, an umbrella can be a real worry. Holding it in your hand can be difficult and placing it somewhere may be dirty. Being able to hang your umbrella totally removes this worry.
These many be only small examples, but they are perhaps representative of omotenashi.
While service may be something expected by a customer, omotenashi is neither expected nor intentionally given. Rather, “omotenashi” is a behavior that occurs voluntarily when considering other people.
As a Japanese person, I am very proud of this.
However, it may well be that the omotenashi of which Japanese people are so proud is not really what they think it is.
Excessive service is not equal to omotenashi.
Next time, I’d like to discuss a little more about this difference in understanding.
Human Academy Japanese Language School - Chief Manager
After graduating, Mr.Tanaka taught Japanese in a number of countries in the ASEAN region including Malaysia and Brunei.
He then taught at a Japanese school for foreign students in Japan for 10 years before making a transition to school management.
As the role of Japanese language teaching changes, Mr.Tanaka focuses on Japanese teaching methods that fit the needs of students today.