Welcome to Omotenashi Gap. The idea behind this blog is simple—to describe cases of how miscommunication and cultural differences between hosts and guests can lead to poor customer experiences and lost profit.
What is an Omotenashi Gap?
During the bidding process for the Tokyo Olympics, many Japanese officials heavily stressed the high standard of Japanese hospitality, or omotenashi, by stating that the Japanese-way of treating guests has been ingrained since ancient times and is among the best in the world. If you lose your wallet, you’ll get it back. If you’re out to dinner and it starts raining, the restaurant will more likely than not have an umbrella for you. It is often described as the subjugation of self to the benefit of the guest. Giving, with all your heart, so that the guest is satisfied.
Omotenashi is treated with reverence in Japan, as an ironclad example of why Japanese do things better. However, there is one fatal flaw that causes problems for hosts providing customer service to non-Japanese: a mutual understanding of each other based in a highly homogenized culture. In short, customer service works well in Japan because both the host and guest have an ingrained sense of how the transaction is supposed to proceed. Both parties know what is expected of them, and both parties strive to fulfill their role. When overseas tourists come to Japan however, this mutual understanding breaks down and can cause problems.
To better understand what kind of omotenashi gaps exist, lets consider a stay at a traditional hot spring resort. From the moment the guest arrives, there are things a resort can do to create a welcoming and hospitable environment for both foreign and Japanese guests. Take, for example, the check-in process. In many Japanese ryokan guests are served sweets or tea in the lobby before being shown to their rooms. This courtesy, designed to help a weary tourist relaxing from their travels, may only annoy a foreign guest who is accustomed to checking in quickly, and who may want to quickly head out again after checking in to do some site seeing.
Ask, don’t assume.
In Japan, anticipating a guests needs before they ask for something is considered the epitome of good hospitality. For overseas guests however, it is this anticipation that most often trips up hosts. A host may assume things based on Japanese standards, and then unintentionally insult the guest. Conversely, the host may change his or her behavior based on the assumption, “All Americans like ___”, and in turn disappoint a foreigner who lives in Japan or one who was looking forward to doing things the Japanese way. The lesson then is to always ask what a guest wants first, rather then assume you know the answer.
How can we help?
Our team of writers and manga artists are going to offer tips for overcoming miscommunications between hosts and guests. Look for one to two new posts per week, accompanied by a short comic, explaining common faux pas and how to overcome them. It’s going to be an exciting journey!