Omotenashi – The Heart of Japanese Hospitality

Omotenashi. The Heart of Japanese Hospitality

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Travellers who have visited Japan are constantly amazed by Japanese hospitality at its hotels and restaurants. This spirit of service embodies everything from ensuring that the guests feel relaxed and happy, to the hosts’ polite attitude, genuine smile and attention to details. Muneyuki Joraku, who has had a long career in the hospitality business, explains what goes into the heart of Japanese hospitality, or ‘Omotenashi’.

What is Japanese ‘Omotenashi’?

By Muneyuki Joraku

I think it’s about creating a non-dominant relationship between a person who’s offering the service and a person who is receiving it. It could be the CEO of a big company, a famous star or an ordinary housewife, but there’s only one simple relationship between host and guest. An example of the best Omotenashi is when the host anticipates the needs of the guest in advance and offers a pleasant service that guests don’t expect. They should not wait for instructions from their guests, as guests who make their requests directly are considered unsophisticated in Japan.

the host anticipates the needs of the guest in advance and offers a pleasant service that guests don't expect. But why is Omotenashi important? I think it’s because good service attracts good customers. There’s a 8:2 marketing theory, which means that 80% of the sales is produced by the 20% of the customers. So, the quality of the service leads to the satisfaction of the customer, and their frequency of visits decides future of the company. This satisfaction is the result of quality Omotenashi.As such, it cannot be written in a manual and there’s no particular technique, because it is based on a one-to-one relationship and it differs in every situation. Therefore, it is hard to cultivate this concept outside of Japan.

My mission as a marketing person in a Japanese hotel group is to blend Japanese Omotenashi with existing hotel service to accomplish a greater experience for our guests.

A warm welcome by the staff

The Heart of Japanese Hospitality, ‘Omotenashi’

I have made my career in the hospitality industry throughout the world, including Singapore, and yet I still find it difficult to explain what ‘Omotenashi’ is in English.

The word ‘Omotenashi’ in Japanese comes from omote (surface) and nashi (less), which means “single-hearted”, and also mote (carry) and nashi (accomplish), which means “to achieve”. Therefore, Omotenashi has two meanings, which include offering a service without expectation of any returned favour, and the ability to actualise that idea into an action. ‘Service’ in English is a term that is more likely to suggest a hierarchy between server and customer, and suggests a business relationship. ‘Hospitality’ in English means to make one happy, or to serve one. ‘Omotenashi’ has a similar meaning, but it suggests deeper part of the human consciousness.

'Omotenashi' has a similar meaning to hospitality in English, but it suggests deeper part of the human consciousness. A few hundreds years ago in China and Europe, people in the upper classes regarded serving their guests the best food and wine as the highest form of “entertainment”. Was there the same spirit of Japanese Omotenashi in the nobilities? I don’t think so. Because the people who cooked and served the food to the table were servants who were working for their boss, and it suggests a hierarchy in their relationships: the servants were merely doing their job. Thanks to this working history, “service” is now a profession, and high-end hotels like The Ritz and The Savoy regard it as their most important duty to fulfill any requests from their guests.

Bright and airy lounge Traditional guest room

Muneyuki Joraku

Muneyuki Joraku

Born in Tokyo, he worked for Mandarin Hotel in Singapore since 1992, and obtained an MBA at Bristol University in 1999. Today, he works in the marketing section of a Japanese hotel chain in charge of producing a customer program that’s based on his research into the Japanese Omotenashi culture.

A caring heart

A caring heart

A little Omotenashi

A little Omotenashi


Enjoy a breathtaking view

January / 2013