The Japanese are well-known for being unfailingly polite, ever helpful, and always considerate. This is something that is ingrained in its inhabitants from a very early age, and can be seen in everything from the way people greet, to the design of a toilet (no kidding).
The Japanese call this spirit ‘Omotenashi’. Roughly translated as ‘hospitality’, this interpretation doesn’t really do the word justice. A more apt description would perhaps be ‘hospitality on steroids’. The culture of putting others first, never saying no, working for hours on end – and basically sacrificing one’s own time and resources for the benefit of others – is all a reflection of Omotenashi.
It’s a difficult thing to describe in just a few words, so we’ve prepared a list of exactly how this culture of hospitality is demonstrated. Hopefully this will give you an idea of how far-reaching the concept is.
1. Vending machines
A recent estimate put Japan’s number of vending machines at 5.52 million. And they are everywhere. From the busy streets of Tokyo to an isolated beach in Nagasaki – you will never be without access to a liquid fix. And for those who prefer the hot kind, many vending machines serve up piping hot coffee, tea and even soup – which is especially welcome in the winter months.
2. Convenience stores
Much like vending machines, these are also everywhere. Well, almost. Our favourites include 7/11, Lawson and FamilyMart – many of which are open 24 hours. So there’s always somewhere to buy the necessities.
3. Warm, singing and squirting toilets
If you’ve ever sat on a Japanese commode, you may have been overwhelmed by the variety of options presented to you in button format. One can spray various parts one’s lower regions with a lovely warm spray to ensure a thorough clean after one’s ‘business’ is completed. These sprays are also temperature- and intensity-adjustable.
Many toilet stalls will play a synthetic flushing sound, or sometimes even music, so you don’t have to worry about your neighbour hearing your, ahem, emissions. This prevents the stress of trying to carry out your business quietly; or attempting to mask the sounds of your bowels with well-timed coughs or the vigorous rustling of toilet paper.
Other functions include automatic seat opening/closing functions; automatic flushing; and one of our winter favourites, heated toilet seats.
4. Disposing of shoes indoors
I once thought this quite strange. I mean, I’ve been wearing shoes indoors my entire life. But if you think about it, the amount of dirt and who-knows-what-else we track indoors with our shoes is something I would rather not think about. And then to spread that all over the places we play, sleep and cook? Hmmmm I think not.
Additionally, in traditional Japanese houses the couch is the floor, with meals happening around a low table. And no one wants to be rolling in microscopic bits of cowpat and the like. In many places you will also find special bathroom slippers to prevent anything from the bathroom floor coming out. If you share a space with males, you have to admit that this sounds pretty great.
5. Lit-up light switches
I’m sure many of us have woken up in the middle of the night, dragged ourselves out of bed, and cursed our way to the bathroom for a midnight relieving session as we fumbled for the light switch. The Japanese offer an ingenious solution! Many light switches here have a small light embedded within, which lights up when the switch is off. So, when everything is dark, this small light on the light-switch guides you to precisely the button you need, to turn on the lights that you desire.
There are so many more expressions of Omotenashi, that if we were to describe them all this would end up being a mighty long article. So here are just a few quickies:
6. Sick people wear facemasks to prevent themselves from infecting others. Nice right?
7. No queue jumping! The Japanese will form organised lines for absolutely everything, and will wait patiently and calmly, no matter how long it takes.
8. Missed your delivery? Never fear, because a QR code on the slip in your mailbox allows you to reschedule the delivery at your convenience, right down to the time.
9. Onigiri (rice wrapped in seaweed), which is a popular snack here, has a plastic layer between the rice and seaweed to prevent the seaweed from getting soggy (because who likes soggy seaweed?). And there will be 3 steps labelled on the packaging to allow you to unwrap your lunch without messing everything up (This is better experienced than described).
10. Bowing. This is a form of respect and is so much part of conversation that you may even see people bowing whilst on the phone!
11. The trains are always on time! Enough said.
12. Traffic officers help you cross the street. These men with batons are not always necessary, especially in quieter streets, but there intent is much appreciated.
The Omotenashi spirit is only one of the things that makes Japan such a great place to visit. There is SO much more. So what are you waiting for? Book a tour, buy a ticket and get ready for an experience you will never forget.