Thursday, July 29, 2010

This is Japanese and universal hospitality

Japanese companies usually educate their employees on Japanese hospitality, and put much value on the idea that you should think about what your customers want, putting yourself in their position.It's based on a tradition that is referred to as おもてなしの心/omotenashino-kokoro in Japanese. If you wait on customers or offer hospitality at work, you will be required to offer a level of service above and beyond what is stipulated by the employee manual. In other words, responding to a variety of situations, you need to think about what to do and try to offer the best service and hospitality to your customers. This doesn't mean that you have to cater to any request made by your customers. If you encounter unreasonable requests, you will be required to decline them in the proper way. Needless to say, that's easier said than done. I think that it is important for you to try to decline unreasonable requests even though it is difficult.

As I mentioned in my previous post (click here), in Japan, visitors sometimes feel uncomfortable when they are served drinks and snacks without being asked if they'd like them. Given the aforementioned idea of Japanese hospitality, people should ask their visitors if they'd like anything before they serve drinks and snacks, although I've realized that more people do that than before. When the visitors don't want what is being offered, they should frankly reply, without hesitating, saying "no thanks". Actually, people still tend to consider it bad manners to decline an offer, and worry that it might offend people. The hosts, on the other hand, should readily accept both positive and negative answers. On top of that, you shouldn't expect others to give you the same level of hospitality as you usually offer.

To make matters worse, there is an awkward tradition in some areas, such as Kyoto. As far as I know, some conservative people in Kyoto still consider that when you are offered something, you should decline it out of politeness even if you really want it. Because of this, hosts in Kyoto strongly urge their visitors to accept their offers even when their visitors decline.

I don't know when the custom of offering a cup of Japanese tea with some snacks to your guests started, but I'm sure that at the time, water and Japanese tea were the only common drinks and you weren't able to buy drinks on the way to your destination. Because of this, visitors were most likely to be thirsty and hungry when arriving at your house, so even if you didn't ask in advance, the hospitality was always welcomed. Now that the times have changed, if you always offer the typical hospitality just out of custom, not thinking about what your visitors and guests want, it won't be hospitality. The idea that you should think about what others want, put yourself in their position, then think about what to do is the fundamental basis of human relationship.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Japanese hospitality can annoy you

When I was a university student, I would give school kids private lessons to make money. I usually went to their house and gave them a two-hour lesson. When I started giving a student a lesson at 4 pm, for example, his/her mother would always came to the room around 6 pm. Can you guess why? The mother would bring a piece of cake and a cup of tea or things like that to me. Even though she paid enough money for the lesson to me, she would serve them every time I gave a lesson. Her attitude toward me is pretty common. As a matter of fact, when you visit a Japanese friend's house even without notice, you will be usually served a cup of tea and some snacks without being asked if you'd like them. Due to this custom, Japanese people often take some snacks or sweets with them when they visit someone's house. These are our customs based on our hospitality.

When I lived in Malaysia, I had an Australian friend who gave private lessons to Japanese people at their houses. She would sometimes get annoyed by being served a cup of tea without being asked. She told me that she would find it difficult to decline the offer under some circumstances. When I lived in China, I would sometimes ask a Chinese masseuse (or massage therapist) --who often visited Japanese client houses --to come to my house. One day, while massaging me, she asked me why Japanese people tried to serve a cup of tea or some snacks to her even though they paid for her massage. She wondered how she should deal with the offer and decline it when she didn't want it. When I have dinner with my non-Japanese, I often notice that they feel uncomfortable with being served by their Japanese friends. In ordinary Japanese restaurants, a dish is often served on a big plate and is placed on the center of a table. You can take some from the dish if you want. If you cannot reach the dish, you can ask someone to take some for you. However, some Japanese will try to serve you food despite not being asked. They also would try to offer to pour beer into your glass.

To be honest, I'm sometimes annoyed by being served drinks and snacks insistently at someone's house even though I politely decline. When I notice that someone takes umbrage with me not accepting his/her offer, I'm reluctant to eat the snacks served. In restaurants, I often feel uncomfortable being served by my friends since I want to my enjoy meal at my own pace. It also can disturb my conversation with others. In my opinion, the hospitality that makes feel others uncomfortable is not real Japanese hospitality (click here) even though it's seemingly polite. These offers are intrusive and hypocritical even though people are doing it with good intention. People always offer such surface hospitality just to satisfy themselves, although some people believe that the hospitality will make everyone feel happy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is Japanese hospitality great or annoying??

Japan is known for offering good customer service at shops etc. As a matter of fact, I often hear that foreign tourists are surprised to be offered good service free of charge. For example, in any restaurant, a glass of water and Japanese tea are always served free of charge. In many restaurants, a piece of wet tissue or towel to wipe your hands comes with the free drink. Since Japanese people don't consider these things as service, they are surprised to see some people from other countries are impressed by these things. They are also surprised to know that the free drink isn't common in other countries when they go there. According to the news, a statistic has shown that Chinese tourists--the number of them has been sharply increasing in the last few years -- are impressed most by the good customer service.

The service is our tradition and it's based on our hospitality, which is referred to as おもてなしの心 in Japanese. It's said that the good service based on Japanese hospitality is key for Japanese companies to expand their businesses in the global market. From this perspective, in China and Taiwan, some Japanese companies are fiercely trying to educate local people on the Japanese customer service ethic.

My story so far might make you feel like our service and hospitality are really good. I think that if you are a customer and are offered good service or hospitality at shops, restaurants and hotels, you will be satisfied with them. However, if you are offered our standard hospitality by your Japanese friends when spending time with them, you might find it difficult to deal with the hospitality. It's more likely to annoy you. In fact, my non-Japanese friends had a hard time dealing with our standard hospitality offered by their Japanese friends. I'll talk about why in the next post. I think that it's very difficult even for Japanese people to understand what Japanese hospitality is. Because of this, some people offer regular service without considering the situation that is necessary to offer real Japanese hospitality. As a result, they sometimes annoy others.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

People from Kyushu/九州 are open-minded

In my previous post (click here), I said that many people from Yamaguchi Prefecture/山口県 played important roles in transforming Japan into a modern nation about one hundred and fifty years ago. Other than them, many people from Kyusyu region/九州, which consists of seven prefectures, especially from Kagoshima Prefecture /鹿児島県, are listed as historical figures. Since Kyusyu region and Yamaguchi Prefecture are located near the Asian Continent, people there were more likely to be subjected to the influence of foreign countries at the time. They were the most sensitive to global situations and were relatively used to accepting different values during the period of national isolation.

The tendency of being open to new values still remains with people in Kyushu. Professor Robert Campbell of the University of Tokyo, who is a well-known American scholar of Japanese literature in Japan and often appears on TV, looked back on his life in Japan in a interview. According to the interview, he first came to Kyushu to study Japanese literature many years ago. As soon as he arrived at a university there, a Japanese professor treated him as if he had studied under that professor for a long time. The professor didn't care about his poor Japanese and his nationality:American. Local people also had an open-minded attitude toward him. He felt comfortable with that. He concluded the story, saying with feeling that the first experience in Japan made him feel like he wanted to study more in Japan. He's been in Japan for about 25 years since then.

I've heard an interesting story about school kids. Some statistics have shown that when transfer students come to a class, students in Kyushu have the most interest in them. Students in Kyushu always welcome transfer students warmly whereas ones in other areas tend to hesitate to speak to them. On top of that, many actors/actresses, singers and so on from Kyushu have succeeded.

I don't have many friends from Kyushu, so I have no first-hand experience of this. However, It's most likely to be true.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Could people from Yamaguchi Prefecture save Japan?

In Japan, more people lately have taken an interest in Japanese history, especially the late Edo Period. This might be in part because by examining the history, people are trying to find some hints for overcoming the difficulties caused by the prolonged economic stagnation. They really need to find a breakthrough.

The TV show, "Ryoma-den/龍馬伝", enjoys high ratings, although I think that the main actor, Masaharu Hukuyama/福山雅治", has contributed to it. The show depicts a historical figure in the late Edo Period named Ryoma Sakamoto/坂本龍馬. On top of this, the number of young women who like visiting historical sites has been increasing for the last few years. They are referred to as Rekijyo/歴女.

I watch the show on Sundays. I think it's interesting. It might be more interesting if you remember that incidents in the show happened only about one hundred and fifty years ago while you watch it. In the show, a man named Yataro Iwasaki / 岩崎弥太郎 from a poor family appeared as a friend of Ryoma Sakamoto/坂本龍馬. He is actually a founder of the Mitsubishi /三菱 business group. I think you might have heard of Japanese companies named Mitsubishi xxxx, such as the Mitsubishi Corporation/三菱商事.

Ryoma Sakamoto/坂本龍馬 is from Tosa Domain/土佐藩, which is currently Kochi Prefecture/高知県. In the late Edo Period, other than him, many people from Choshu Domain/長州藩, which is currently Yamaguchi Prefecture/山口県, played important roles in leading Japan to become a modern nation. Immediately after the show reminded me of that fact, I heard the news that UNIQLO, a well-known clothing retail chain in Japan, would adopt English as its official language since the company was going to compete in the competitive global market as a global company, not as a Japanese one. Actually, the company is from Yamaguchi Prefecture /山口県. Three decades ago, it was a very small company that did business only within the prefecture. Now, UNIQLO is a growing company and a leader in the market. The company has developed a new business model.

Our Prime Minster Naoto Kan/菅直人 was born and raised in Yamaguchi Prefecture /山口県. Although he is put in a difficult position, I hope that he is going to do well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Korean actors fascinating Japanese women

When I visited my parents' house about five years ago, I was surprised to find a mug with a picture of a popular Korean actor, Bae Yong Joon, on it. I immediately asked my mother where and how she had got the mug while gazing at it with round eyes. She happily said that she had gone on a short trip to Korea and had bought it there since she was fascinated by the very popular Korean TV show, Winter Sonata, and its starring actor, Bae Yong Joon.

About eight years ago, the show was broadcast and it ignited a Korean boom in Japan. Since then, the actor has been popular. Although I realized how popular some Korean actors and Korean TV shows were among Japanese women over 50, I didn't imagine that my mother was intrigued by that show and Bae Yong Joon.

Although I don't know Korean TV shows well, I think that many of them present platonic love and pure love in a romantic way. It's been said that such stories remind Japanese women over 60 of their bittersweet experiences. This is partly because many of them weren't allowed to marry the man whom they really loved because arranged marriage was common when they were young. In other words, these shows make them feel as if they could return to their youth when they were falling in love, since they can find similarities between the stories and their own experiences. The virtual romances seem to give them energy to deal with a harsh reality that they have to get along with their retired husbands who hadn't paid attention to them for many years until their retirement.

On the 30th of Jun, another popular Korean actor, Park Yongha, who was also in the public limelight in Japan when the aforementioned Korean TV show was broadcast, committed suicide. According to the news, the 32-year-old actor went to heaven, being watched by a large number of his female fans dressing in mourning. Surprisingly, 90 percent of them were Japanese women even though his funeral was held in Seoul only two days after his death. Most of them were seemingly middle-aged. They were collapsing into tears.

the very popular Korean TV show, Winter Sonata