おもてなし - Omotenashi

Omotenashi is a Japanese word that has recently come to mean anything and everything to do with the extraordinary customer experience you find all over Japan.

Omotenashi おもてなし actually has a more specific, narrow, meaning that describes the essence of their unique approach to customer service.

The Japanese proudly claim that it is a service and hospitality ethos unique to Japan and that is perhaps true. But when you get to the core ideas that lie behind the word it is a philosophy shared by service-minded people the world over.

If you are in a Hospitality, Retail, Learning and Development, Customer Service or Customer eXperience role, you will want to get up to speed on the subject of Omotenashi.

Precise definitions of the word are not that easy because Japanese is a rich, layered language with multiple depths of meaning. Yes, one word can have more than one meaning - not surprising for a language that combines two alphabets, hiragana ひらがな and katakana  カタカナ with thousands of 漢字 Kanji pictograms of Chinese origin.

With that said, the word OMOTENASHI can best be understood on three levels, starting with :-

The Dictionary Definition

Look up the word in a Japanese-English dictionary and you will get a short word definition as follows:-

OMOTENASHI

"1. hospitality; reception; treatment; service; entertainment​"

This link is representative of the meanings given on other similar dictionaries. The problem with such a cursory definition is that it tells you nothing of the qualities of the hospitality, reception, treatment etc. Does it mean good service or indifferent service? Warm hospitality or perfunctory hospitality? 

To understand that it is necessary to turn to the roots of meaning in the Japanese language. And this is where it gets more interesting.

Its roots in Japanese language

The word おもてなし has in it, two meanings in linguistic terms.

First is "Omote" おもて meaning the "surface" or front of something.

And the second part "Nashi" なし means "nothing or less"

Put these two elements together and you get "No Surface" and therefore no "back" either. It is therefore a concept that implies doing something without a hidden meaning or agenda. Not two-faced. Serving a guest or a customer with no ulterior motive or expectation of thanks.

There is also a second linguistic meaning.

Omit the initial "O", which is the part of the word added for  Japanese Polite Language  reasons,  and you are left with the "Mote" of Omotenashi which can mean "being in a state of having things" either material of conceptual "things".  The second element comes from the verb "Naru" which means "To accomplish things right through to the end"

These meanings also derive from the Kanji  

Put these elements together therefore and the meaning implies doing something, in service of others, all the way through to the end. And thus giving your service wholeheartedly. This is perhaps why you will hear Japanese use the expression "Omotenashi no kokoro". meaning "Omotenashi from the heart"

Consider these two meanings together and you have a working definition of a philosophy of service done in a wholehearted, accomplished way with no ulterior motive or agenda other than that of being of service.

Language evolves so there is now wider definition 

Languages grow and evolve and with the growing popularity of the word these days there is a growing recognition that Customer eXperience is as important as customer service alone. The perception of satisfaction with a company, brand, product or service that comes from a wider range of feedback than just service. 

As a result, the word Omotenashi is increasingly being used to imply/mean anything to do with customer- focused expression in behaviour, service, intent or even product design. And this idea goes as far as User Interface design in the world of the internet. I believe this stretches and dilutes the meaning of the word too far to be useful.

Some interesting links that explain it further

An academic study

In terms of symbols and behaviours

The heart of Japanese Hospitality

Some cultural context and roots

Conclusion

Perhaps, therefore, the best summary definition should be simply is along these lines:-

"Omotenashi is a philosophy of life that believes in the giving of service without any expectation of thanks"

When this is understood, it becomes obvious that everybody who works in any role that has any kind of final impact on customer or guest satisfaction is part of the spirit of Omotenashi. Not only those who have a direct customer facing role to play.

And when you stop to think about that, it includes pretty much all of us!

What Omotenashi feels like on the receiving end.

CUSTOMER SERVICE IN JAPAN IS PERFECT - HOW?

" There are many things I could write about regarding Japan's style of view on business, such as negotiations, loyal relationships or continuous improvement or 'kaizen', but today I want to focus on the politeness that is ubiquitous there and that leads the Japanese to being world famous in their customer service. Entrepreneurs and managers everywhere should be keen to learn how they can adapt these small but powerful concepts to improve their own customer service experience. "

'Can I Help You?' Three Ways The Japanese Do Customer Service Better

"Make no mistake: Japan is a modern country with breathtaking technology built into everything from its bullet trains to its trash cans.  However, the country offers a great lesson in the fact that no matter how fast technology changes, there are certain things that don’t:  feeling appreciated, having a sensory experience and being on the receiving end of kindness and enthusiasm are all things that people want from a shopping experience" 

How Japan Has Perfected Hospitality Culture

"Before I went to Japan for the first time, I was told by well-traveled friends to expect a level of customer service so polished and comprehensive that even the most basic transactions can take on a ceremonious air."

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